As a teenager, Byron Alvarado and his fellow soccer players were chased from the Sadie E. Scott Recreation Field on the Five Towns Community Center campus in Lawrence. Now at the same field, the Inwood resident oversees the 14-team Guatemalan Fútbol League of the Five Towns and serves as a community center vice president.
It’s been a long trip for Alvarado, 36, from practically an orphan to community leader. He left Guatemala in 1998 at 14 with his grandmother, Santos Elicia, and they settled in Far Rockaway. “When I was a little baby my mother left and I went to live with my grandmother,” Alvarado said. “It was very difficult in Guatemala that’s why we came to America. In Guatemala, you could join the gangs or be a good person, but it’s hard not to join.”
After learning life lessons from his grandmother — such as sharing what you have no matter how little it is — marrying and having a family, working as a butcher and now as an employee of Sanitation District 1, Alvarado has become an indispensable member of his neighborhood. He and his wife, Cecilia have four children: Dyron, Emily, Stacy and Jocelyn.
“I’m most impressed with his attitude and spirit, and the way he jumps into all of the projects,” said longtime Inwood resident Pete Sobol, who serves on the Community Center board with Alvarado and considers him his best friend. “The things he does are not self-serving, and he takes a tremendous amount of pride and joy in helping people beyond the Hispanic community. He is a great guy. We need a few thousand more like him.”
Alvarado was one of six Town of Hempstead residents who received the 2017 Hispanic Heritage Award at a ceremony on Sept. 19. Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
He was recognized for founding the soccer league in 2007, and then helping Hurricane Sandy victims five years later. “It’s great to be honored,” said Alvarado, who hasn’t stopped helping victims of natural disasters. He and others just collected a container full of items that will be sent to help earthquake victims in Mexico. Alvarado did the same for earthquake victims in his native country a decade ago.
“The way I was raised, we were so poor, my grandmother shared what we got with others,” he said. Elica died eight years ago. She was 72.
Last Saturday, Alvarado was decked out in a blue and red soccer jersey as the 1:30 p.m. playoff game between Atlético Juvenil and Estancia PC took place on the recreation field. In the next game, he donned a lime-green jersey and played for Veteranos. Alvarado and the others played in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway before he formed the league. In his younger days, he played semi-pro soccer in Brooklyn. Usually he plays offense.
The players come from Brooklyn, Queens and the Five Towns. Games are played on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Because of the players’ work schedules, there are no practices, but their soccer skills and game acumen are apparent. Players pay $6 each to help support the league.
“I got a few people, Pete Sobol [and] other friends, to help me out,” Alvarado said. Friends and family watch the games, music is blasting, and food and beverages are plentiful. There is a small scoreboard and game clock. Games are about hour in length. Each half is 30 minutes, and there is a brief break.
“My interactions with Byron have always been a source of encouragement,” said the Rev. Eric Fasano, the resident priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Inwood. “His willingness to lend a hand at a moment’s notice on many occasions is a clear sign of his deep commitment to the community.”
Fasano and Sobol both recounted the story about Alvarado helping to catch a man who stole a woman parishioner’s pocketbook in the church two years ago. “He posted the guy’s photo on Facebook,” Sobol said. “Driving in Cedarhurst, he saw the guy. He followed him while a friend got a policeman to help. He told me, ‘We can’t let people in our neighborhood get away with that, we have to stop it.’ That’s insightful.”
“The Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel will always be grateful for his pivotal role during the difficult time following a robbery inside the church, and bringing the culprit to justice,” Fasano said of Alvarado. “Without a doubt, Byron’s longest-lasting impact will be experienced by the people of our community who enjoy the tremendous opportunity of participating in the soccer league that he founded.”
Alvarado shook off the compliments like a would-be defender. “Whether you’re Hispanic, black, white, Jewish, wherever people need help, we will help people,” he said.