BELLEVILLE – Ryan Kelly was working as a manager at Lone Star Texas Grill in Belleville when he met the Martin family, who changed his life.
Thomas Martin, his mother Charlene, and his father Robert impacted many lives in the community with their family's story.
Thomas, just 11 years old, was suffering from Gliomatosis Cerebri, a form of brain cancer.
Kelly met Thomas and his parents while they were eating at Lone Star. People in the restaurant were offering to pay the family's bill when Kelly, also known by his work name, Ranger Danger, introduced himself to the Martins to find out why.
"I sat down with the family [and] talked to them. And within probably 15 minutes, Mom and Dad were crying and telling me everything about Thomas. Right then and there, I said I wanted to do something for them, and find a way to make their lives a little bit easier," he said.
Knowing he had an influence in the community, Kelly said he wanted to create an event for the Martin family.
"In three weeks, I planned an event at Lone Star. What Lone Star did was take 10 per cent of the total sales for the entire day and donate it back to the family," Kelly said.
He also had $18,000 worth of prizes to be given away. He said the turnout was great, and many people from the community showed up to support the Martins.
According to Kelly, "Everybody showed up to support this family and make their life less stressful."
Kelly said Thomas was an inspiration to him and reinforced his desire to continue helping out families and friends in his community.
"I think because he was such a young boy at such a young age, and not being able to experience life as a kid, and to face death in the eyes or possible death, I think that takes people a lot of courage," he said.
"I wanted to help his family. I didn't feel like I had to do it. I didn't feel like it was going to benefit me, but in the long run I gained a lot more from getting to know him and the family, than what I gave to them," he said.
The community lost Thomas Feb.29, 2016, who impacted many people's lives after his two-year battle with brain cancer.
Kelly was 11 years old when he was taught the importance of supporting and helping people in the community. He said one of his biggest influences was his grandmother.
"My grandmother taught me at a very young age always to give, and always to support people," he said.
Kelly would visit his grandmother every summer. She would give him a stack of tickets for a church event and bring Kelly to the event to see what the money was doing for people in the community.
"She always said 'you will always get a lot more back than what you give,'" Kelly said.
Thomas Martin and his family aren't the only ones who have received support and help from Kelly. He also biked to support children suffering from cancer with the Belleville Police, ran a half-marathon last summer in memory of Thomas, was involved in Heels for Hope, helped raise money for the Belleville General Hospital, donated to Gleaners Food Bank, and was involved in many other community charity events – all while working at Lone Star.
Kelly continues to make a difference in his community and says he will continue to help others.
"I don't need the gratitude. I don't need the whole thing. If I can see it in their eyes that I have helped them a little bit and gave them that support, that's amazing in itself. I'm humble about it," he explained.