Illinois first-grader Ayden Cazares knows what it feels like to have a broken heart.
As a kindergartner at Ridge Elementary School in Plainfield, bullies targeted the boy by pulling down his pants, biting him and shoving him off a slide, his mother, Nelly Sainez, told the Plainfield Patch.
What the bullies likely did not know is Cazares was battling a congenital heart defect, for which he underwent surgery in August. The experience wasn’t easy, and while the now 6-year-old is recovering, he’s not sitting around sulking about his situation. Instead, he launched a Facebook page with his mother’s help to reach out to kids less fortunate than himself, to offer encouragement and help make their birthday wishes come true.
Sainez said the family came up with the idea last year when they decided to give away some of Ayden’s old toys to kids in need, and it’s since evolved into “adopting” a family for Christmas and daily video messages of support to kids who write in to the Facebook page, Aiden’s Fulfilling Your Birthday Wish.
“We found a single mom with two boys with autism and gave away toys and clothes,” Sainez said. “It just went from there.”
“He just loves making the videos,” she said.
Aiden said it’s rewarding to give presents to other kids on their birthdays, especially those who have similar stories of bullying.
“I want them to feel happy,” Cazares told CBS Chicago. “If they don’t feel happy, I don’t feel happy.”
The first-grader issued a challenge to his followers for Bullying Prevention Month in October to “be nice to someone and do something for them,” and his constant focus on others is gaining a lot of attention.
The New York-based See the Wish/Be-A-Friend Project highlighted the “6-year-old Upstander from Chicago” and collected encouraging letters from students across the country to offer support.
Through mid-October, the See the Wish campaign had collected nearly 1,000 personal letters from students commending Cazares for overcoming his life struggles and inspiring others to endure through kindness.
“You did so awesome with them, with the boys hurting you,” wrote Jaelen, a student from Texas. “You inspired me to ‘kill people with kindness.’ You are a good role model for people for all ages.”
Cazares’ experience highlights perhaps the most foundational concept of character education.
James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote in his book “The Death of Character”:
Implicit in the word character is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self.
Parents and educators looking to inspire similar selfless kindness can find a variety of resources from The Great Kindness Challenge, an annual event put on by the nonprofit Kids for Peace.
The one-week event can be tailored to schools or families, and uses a checklist to help show youngsters what kindness really means. In 2018, more than 10 million students in nearly 20,000 schools carried out over 500 million acts of kindness in 103 countries during the last week in January.
“The Great Kindness Challenge provided an opportunity for our students to care for each other in ways that went above and beyond their normal interactions,” California elementary school principal Chad Lund said. “As a result, we noticed a real impact on the school’s culture with a decrease in bullying and an increase in compassion, unity and respect.”