More than a year ago, DPS Trooper Casey Rhinehart was helping a disabled vehicle on the U.S. 93 near Wickenburg.
As he escorted the car to the nearest gas station, a vehicle in the opposing lane collided with them and other vehicles, resulting in the death of two people and injuring five others.
Rhinehart barely survived and came out with a severe leg injury.
When George Valverde, co-owner of Dillon’s KC BBQ, heard about the tragedy, he jumped into action, holding a fundraiser and contributing meals to the family as they struggled to put their lives back together after the accident.
Valverde helped raise $9,000 for the family and the incident culminated with an event to honor Rhinehart at Dillon’s Arrowhead, Aug. 27.
This sort of call to action is par for the course for Valverde.
The list of outreach projects in the West Valley he has contributed to is long, to name a few organizations he has helped: Nadaburg School District, Solider’s Best Friend, Folds of Honor, Healing Fields, Operation Underground Railroad, Wounded Warriors and Submarine Vets.
Ed Cunningham, former firefighter and owner of Firehouse Subs in Surprise, has worked on a number of community service projects with Valverde. Cunningham said when it comes to helping the community, Valverde is never competing with anybody because his endeavors come from the heart.
When Valverde is passionate about something, he throws himself into it, Cunningham said.
“When George has an idea and wants to help, he says, ‘Let’s get it done,’ and everybody goes to work,” Cunningham said.
For his work in giving back to the community, Valverde has been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the Community Cheerleader category.
The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live or teach in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.
Valverde will be honored at an awards luncheon next year.
In partnership with the city of Peoria, he also will be interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.
Both personally, and through his nonprofit R&G Dillon’s Cares, Valverde has helped direct more than $40,000 to students, teachers and classrooms in Nadaburg Unified School District and Morristown Elementary District.
Superintendent Aspasia Angelou said Valverde’s restaurant staff advocates for educators, “rounding up” willing patron’s tabs and sending the proceeds straight to purchase classroom materials for the arts, special projects and STEM activities. These donations are 100% funding to the classroom — with no administrative costs.
Valverde and his staff at Dillon’s at Western Trails Ranch in Morristown have hosted staff and family events for both districts for the last three years, including winter holiday gatherings, graduation ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic and end of the year celebrations. Angelou said his compassion and concern for the community are evident daily in her schools, but he also works to help educate the community on water safety at his Lake Pleasant location, where many district staff, students and families gather on the weekend.
During the Christmas season, Valverde and R&G Dillon’s Cares have engaged with business owners and other nonprofit organizations in Surprise and the surrounding areas of Wittmann, Circle City, Morristown and Wickenburg, to bring an amazing annual Christmas event for over 200 students and family members in the community, she said.
“Everyone is able to experience the love and caring that the holidays are meant to exemplify,” Angelou said. “We are truly blessed to have George’s generous support of our schools for the last three years, and look forward to this valuable partnership in the future!”
The Christmas event started about five years ago when Surprise business owner Raymond Grim said he pitched the idea to his networking group, Surprise Lifestyle Networking. The goal was to help kids in need during the holiday season. The event has grown since, moving to Western Trails Ranch three years ago, and last year served 275 children, with more expected this Christmas.
Grim said the event has grown because of Valverde’s vision.
“He came up with ideas to make it bigger and envisioned it to be something huge,” Grim said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.