PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When you talk about his river, you can see a smile, with a hint of pride, start to form on his face.
And 11-year-old RJ Aguilar should be proud. Every day, since the middle of summer, RJ has grabbed his snorkel, his fins and his net and made the mile journey to the Sanitam River in Jefferson. And every day he’s returned home with bags of cans and plastic water bottles in tow — a collection from the bottom of the river.
Since he started, RJ has cleaned the river of over 1,300 cans and water bottles.
“It all started out with him finding one can,” said Ray Aguilar, RJ’s father. “and then it just progressed from there.”
RJ’s Santiam River clean-up project had a simple beginning. The Aguilar’s consider themselves a river family. Being so close, it only makes sense that the river would be a good place to beat the summer heat. RJ is no exception. He’s been going to the river all his life.
One day this summer he noticed something when he went to swim.
“I just saw a whole bunch of cans down there and I couldn’t even see the river floor,” RJ said. “So i just decided to go clean up.”
The first day RJ came back with 20 cans, according to Ray. Then 40, and then 70, and then more.
“And then he was bringing 160-170 per day,” Ray said.
This week, over 1,300 cans later, RJ’s sister, Cassie, decided to tell his story on the Jefferson Oregon Community Group Facebook.
“Even though it’s a big river to clean up, RJ is trying to make a small difference and eventually inspire others as well,” she wrote.
That small difference caught the eye of hundreds of people. Strangers commented with words of gratitude and pride at the boy spending his summer cleaning up his river. RJ has read those messages. He said they made him tear up.
“They’re very meaningful,” he said.
That pride is mirrored in Ray and RJ’s mother, Liz.
“When I saw the post it makes it seem like a lot of other people care about cleaning up the river,” Ray said.
“It’s just something he enjoys doing,” Liz said. “I’m proud of this guy.”
RJ said the Santiam River is clean of garbage — for now.
“But every weekend it restocks,” he said.
And that’ll be the case until he grabs his net, his snorkel and his fins and dives into the water again.