After almost five months on the road, being transported by a handful of people, the rock arrived as school started this month at El Paso's Dr. Sue A. Blancas was a teacher at Shook Elementary. Her principal recalled her as someone who "embodied kindness".
Principal Cristina Sanchez-Chavira stated, "She's leaving a legacy of kindness to others, making everyone feel special, taking time to get to understand someone and letting them be special."
It was a fitting tribute to the 35-year-old whose video of her bilingual class of first graders in El Paso charmed Twitter users in 2018. This clip featured students hugging one another as they streamed outside the classroom, a practice they used to end their day.
Sanchez-Chavira stated, "She wanted them know that they were loved at their arrival and there was someone waiting for them." "And then, as they left: This place is yours, we love and support you here."
Pinksocks Life, an organization that promotes human connections, reached out to the Aikens family after the viral video. She connected with Brian Aikens via Twitter through that initiative, a Royersford, Pennsylvania special education teacher.
Blancas and Aikens presented their students virtually in early 2020, just before the pandemic that decimated American life. Aikens read to her students.
Blancas' Dec. 28 death caused Aikens to talk with his students about how they could honor her memory.
To help his students feel connected during the shutdown of the pandemic, he began delivering painted stones to their homes to aid in their recovery. He thought of a large, heart-shaped rock that could fit an adult's hand. It had been there since his son, a young boy, found it while on a hike. He had written the words "love less fear less" on it -- a Pinksocks slogan.
Aikens stated that Zelene's passing made it clear to him that he felt the need to pass on the rock.
The rock's journey began in March when Aikens assistant's daughter participated in a North Carolina hockey tournament.
Pete Metzgar, an active member of Pinksocks had also offered to take it. A Raleigh colleague picked it up and delivered it to Metzgar weeks later, when they met for work in Alabama. It was then returned to North Carolina, where Metzgar brought it to Charlotte.
Metzgar, who is often on the road for his work in Telemedicine, began posting online to search for someone to take him West. But when he reached Phoenix in June, he decided to go with a friend.
It looked like the stone wouldn't make it out of Arizona on time to start school in El Paso. Monica Aguilera, who works at Shook Elementary to connect students with external resources, took a weekend trip to get the stone. Metzgar's friend took her to Phoenix for dinner and she returned home with the rock. She was astonished to see "rainbows everywhere" as she drove back.
As Aikens' students followed the rock's journey online, they met virtually with Shook Elementary teacher Lindsay Taylor's first grade class and learned about each other's cities.
Taylor stated that the exchange was a light of hope after a difficult year. It inspired her students and encouraged them to create their own acts of kindness.
Taylor stated, "It kinda gave them this, Oh, we can get the best from a bad situation.'"
Each classroom will receive a kindness rock, which is placed in a case with a photograph of Blancas as well as a plaque.
Mario Blancas stated that his sister's desire to help students stemmed from her own struggle with English when they moved to El Paso, Mexico from Juarez, Mexico.
"She loved every day spent with her students. He said that she was a teacher but also advocated for her students.
Zelene Blancas was also devoted to her family and loved her dogs. Her niece was her special friend. They spent time together baking cookies and going to the spa.
Great-uncle Martha Contreras stated, "For her brief life, she left so many behind," "Unforgettably beautiful footprints."