‘Serving Our Neighbor Is Serving Jesus’
When a parish family lost their home to arson, Arkansas Knights went above and beyond to help the family rebuild
By Elisha Valladares-Cormier 10/9/2023
When families in Rogers, Arkansas, need a hand to pay rent, buy groceries or fix a roof, members of Los Martires Mexicanos Council 14609 are always ready to help. So when a family from St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish lost their entire home to arson earlier this year, the Knights did not hesitate to step up, turning a tragic story into one of divine providence, human teamwork and commitment to the Order’s mission.
“I became a Knight because I was told we would always be supporting the families in most need in our community,” said Grand Knight Juan González. “Thank God we were able to meet this family’s needs and help.”
In the early hours of April 6, 2023, Albino Leon pulled into his driveway on South D Street in Rogers, tired after a long shift at a local warehouse. He walked into the home he and his wife, Maribel, had purchased 18 years earlier, unaware that across the street, someone was lighting a neighbor’s shed on fire.
The Rogers Fire Department was called around 1:30 a.m., and firefighters were able to put out the shed fire. They left the scene but returned only three hours later: This time, it was the Leons’ home ablaze, and the fire raged.
The Leons’ youngest son, 19-year-old Jason, heard crackling and rushed to wake his father, who was slow to move due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Fortunately, Maribel had left home at about 3:30 a.m. for her job at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas. Albino and Jason and the family’s two dogs escaped through a bedroom window, stumbling onto the street, where all they could do was watch the fire take its devastating toll.
The Leon home, where Albino and Maribel raised their three sons, was a total loss. The men had just the clothes they wore to bed and Maribel the hospital scrubs she wore to work.
“We were left with nothing,” Maribel said.
Police would later arrest a 15-year-old boy in connection with the two fires.
Friends, family and others rushed to the family’s aid. Neighbors brought clothes and Maribel’s cousin opened her house to the Leons. Another family member started a GoFundMe that raised nearly $17,000. But bad news came when the Leons learned their insurance company would give them only $105,000 for damages; the cost to rebuild the home was projected to surpass $170,000.
Adrian Dominguez, a member of Council 14609 and past state deputy of Arkansas (2014-2016), brought the Leons’ plight to the attention of his brother Knights. The family had long been heavily involved at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, and Maribel was active in pro-life groups such as 40 Days for Life. It was in part through this ministry that Dominguez and his wife, Socorro, became friends with the family. Dominguez asked Albino and Jason to speak at a council meeting in hopes that the council could provide some financial or volunteer assistance.
“I told everyone that here is a family in need, and we’re here to help everybody,” Dominguez said. “And everybody said yes.”
The Knights decided to help tear down what was left of the home, a task that Dominguez and other Knights initially thought could be done by “knocking it down with a hammer and chisel — like you see on TV,” Dominguez said.
But soon, two council members who work in construction assessed the situation and realized that the job would require dumpsters, tractors and bulldozers — machinery both heavy and expensive. So Dominguez started making calls, and, he said, “God provided.”
One Knight’s employer loaned a bulldozer almost completely free, just asking for it to be returned with a full tank of gas. Another Knight brought his company’s four dump trucks to take debris to a local landfill, which required its own fee. Several area councils and the Arkansas State Council pitched in $4,500, which was enough to cover all the costs associated with the demolition.
When the weekend of June 9-10 arrived, 40 Knights and family members descended on the site. It took them just a day and a half to demolish and clear the debris. Contractors estimated that the Knights’ donations and labor saved the Leons $45,000.
The family’s home is being rebuilt on the same lot, which the Leons say would not have been possible without the Knights. Reflecting on the age-old quandary of why bad things happen to good people, Maribel said that what really matters is seeing God work through it all: “God’s hand put the right people in our path. We would not have been able to make it without them.”
The Natural State Knights were only doing what came to them naturally. In the past three years, the council has financially assisted scores of people in need of money for rent or food with disbursements ranging between $300-$500; approximately $35,000 has been distributed through this program since it began. Whether families need help fixing roofs or cutting grass, council members are there, ready to step in.
“We like to say ‘Sirviendo al prójimo es sirviendo a Jesús’ (‘Serving our neighbor is serving Jesus’),” Dominguez said. “That’s why we get involved anytime the parish has a family in crisis.”
ELISHA VALLADARES-CORMIER is associate editor of Columbia and a member of Sandusky (Ohio) Council 546.