In the wake of a mass shooting that rocked his hometown, sixth grader Ruben Martinez brainstormed with his mom to find a way to shine some light on the community. In his spiral notebook, Martinez outlined the #ElPasoChallenge, encouraging everyone in the city to do twenty random acts of kindness in honor of the then-20 people who lost their lives in the shooting (the death toll has since risen to at least 22).
After offering initial suggestions like visiting a nursing home or donating to people in need, Martinez also jotted down ideas on how to get everyone to participate—that way they could “show the world that people from El Paso are kind and care for each other.” The challenge has since gone viral, with many people tweeting photos of themselves making good on their acts of kindness, from donating supplies to teachers to visiting kids in the juvenile justice system.
When news of the shooting broke, Rose Gandarilla, Martinez’s mother, says her son was struggling to process what happened and was afraid to go out shopping. But as he’s done his first few acts of kindness, she says Martinez has been feeling better. Since the shooting, the two have taken dinner out to the first responders at Walmart, passed out candy at a local restaurant, and, on Tuesday night, given roses to the emergency room personnel that cared for some of the victims, as well as the families of survivors in the Intensive Care Unit waiting room.
“The response we’ve gotten from the community has been amazing,” Gandarilla says. “Hate will not define El Pasoans. Kindness will prevail. My son has been telling people, ‘be kind to each other all day, all night, every day, every night.’”