KILLEEN, TX — Students across Central Texas are getting ready to head back to class this month. An anti-violence organization in Killeen is working to make sure every child has all the supplies they need for the school year.
Change Starts With You gave parents and kids in Killeen a chance to start the school year right on Sunday. They gave out new backpacks, snacks and even haircuts.
Event organizers say they’re turning a personal tragedy into a way to give back to the city.
In 2019, Keila Cruz lost her son, 19-year-old Jonathan Martinez, to violence in Killeen. His friends and family worked together to create Change Starts With You.
“We just want to give back to the community in every way possible to prevent violence,” Cruz said.
Parents said Sunday's event sent a message of peace to kids.
“I think it’s very important, it gives kids something to look forward to, to know that there is a safe environment for them to go enjoy themselves," Bonnie Willson said.
And that’s what those who lost Jonathan Martinez wanted.
“Our friend was only 19. Like he barely got a chance to explore life, so us being out here, helping the kids at such a young age, want to give them a chance to benefit their life before anything can happen,” Donyae Marshall said.
“Johnny’s mom could’ve stayed at home, but she chose to get up, give back,” another friend, Jwan Roberts said.
A long line of parents and kids showed up for their turn to get a backpack and celebrate with some music. By bringing people together, Cruz is trying to make change happen in Killeen.
"Education is super important, super super important. Finish school, decide what you want to do, and let’s work together to stop the violence and start healing our kids here in Killeen,” Cruz said.
Change Starts With You hopes today’s event shows kids that people care, and that they commemorate the life of their lost friend.
“Long live Johnny!” his friends chanted.