Fidencio Leija, the son of immigrant parents, grew up in Santa Fe in humble circumstances. He had seven brothers and sisters.
He played basketball at Santa Fe High School in the 1990s, and, after graduation, joined the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the USS Juno for nine years.
When he returned home, Leija enrolled in College of the Mainland with his younger brother, David.
Together, they immersed themselves in their studies, student government, and became members of the honor society.
“My brother had a great desire to be of service to others,” Leija said.
“After he died in a car accident in 2008, I knew I had to carry on for the both of us.”
Leija said he is able to honor his brother by serving the community.
The list of his efforts toward that is long, said Martha Alverez, who nominated Leija to be a Daily News Everyday Hero.
Leija volunteers as a student mentor for Communities in School in Dickinson and as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children who have been abused or neglected.
He is a board member for the Santa Fe Education Foundation and for the Galveston County Ranchers Association. He is an advocate for Thank America’s Teachers and every January he runs in the Chevron Houston Marathon to raise money for the March of Dimes.
After the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School, he was asked to be a committee member for the National Compassion Fund to administer money to the victims.
“It was a painful time,” he said. “Our community is close and it touched everyone’s life.”
“I’ve never lost a child — I can’t imagine that — but I lost my brother and I know that kind of pain.”
Santa Fe has brought him many wonderful gifts, he said. A cousin introduced Leija to his wife, Krissy Tibaldo-Leija, at a Santa Fe football game.
“Santa Fe is my home and I am committed to serving my community,” Leija said. “My parents live here now and Krissy’s parents have been here for decades. It’s where we are building our dream home and raising our family.”