Rachel’s Challenge: Start a chain reaction

Sarah Hawley

November 9, 2013

MEIGS COUNTY — One act of kindness, caring or compassion can trigger another, and another, starting a chain reaction that can impact the lives of many.

That is just one of the messages being conveyed as part of Rachel’s Challenge. The world-wide campaign focuses on the writings and actions of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

Over the past week, students, teachers, parents and community members in Meigs County have heard about Rachel’s Challenge through a series of presentations and assemblies conducted by Aaron Kinebrew, one of approximately 40 presenters with the organization.

Rachel’s Challenge is a series of student empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion. Scott showed that compassion and kindness to those who were picked on, new to the school or had special needs.

The teenager wrote shortly before her death, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

Kinebrew, a two-year presenter with Rachel’s Challenge, spoke to students at Meigs, Eastern and Southern school districts this week and led a community event in each district.

Administrators and staff in each district noted the tremendous amount of positive response from the students in their respective districts.

In each district, students could sign up to be part of the Friends of Rachel Club which will carry on the ideas and message of Rachel’s Challenge throughout the year. Students in the clubs took part in training following the assembly at their respective schools.

At Eastern, Middle School Principal Bill Francis said, “the Friends of Rachel (FOR) Clubs at the middle school and high school will be doing projects to promote positive behavior, compassion and kindness in the school. The elementary will be working on the paper chains made up of ‘acts of kindness’ as shown in the presentation.”

Francis added that the district may do a “Rachel’s Rally” at a later date to celebrate the positive changes this will bring. In addition, the school will have some follow-up curriculum that staff will use to continue to work towards a positive school climate and making these changes lasting and sustainable.

Some of the students at Eastern had commented that it was one of the most moving things they had seen following the assembly.

“During the FOR training, the presenter allowed time for students to openly share issues that may be weighing on their hearts and minds. This allowed other students to have a glimpse of what others may be going through every day in our schools,” said Meigs Middle School Assistant Principal David Deem. Accompanying the students during the training were guidance counselors, social workers, teachers and administrators from Meigs Local, in addition to community representatives from juvenile court, Health Recovery Services, Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, the commissioner’s office and local clergy.

Southern Local Guidance Counselor Andrea Cline said the assembly was well received by the students at Southern.

“Both our kindergarten through fifth and sixth through twelfth grade assemblies went well, really moving many students,” said Cline. “We could tell by their reactions that they really took a look at themselves and wanted to make sure they aren’t the source of anyone’s pain.”

Cline added that more than 100 students signed up to be part of the FOR clubs between the middle school and high school.

“Although the sixth through eighth grades and ninth through twelfth grades will be separate clubs, they may work together on some projects. During our Friends of Rachel training, students brainstormed many ideas for things the FOR club can do to impact the school environment here for the better. We plan to have our first official FOR club meetings next week and are hopeful that the motivation continues for the students at the school,” said Cline.

During the presentations by Kinebrew this week, video clips showed some of those who Scott had impacted in her life — students who were bullied or new to the school.

Kinebrew outlined the five individual challenges that make up Rachel’s Challenge, giving details about how Rachel fulfilled each and its importance.

No. 1 — Look for the best in others

Kinebrew noted that you find what you are looking for in others.

“You have the power to bring out the best in people if you look for it,” Kinebrew said.

The writings of Anne Frank served as an inspiration to the writing of Rachel Scott. Scott had a premonition that she would die young, and that their writings would someday impact the world. Both wrote of kindness.

Scott had written before her death — in an outline of her hands — “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch the hearts of millions of people.”

One of her goals was to start a chain reaction of kindness that ripples around the world, something fulfilled by Rachel’s Challenge.

No. 2 — Dream big

On the back of the diary Scott was carrying on the day of her death was written, “I won’t be labeled as average.”

Scott was also inspired by the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was quoted as saying, “The chain reaction of evil must be broken.” In contrast, Scott wanted to begin a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.

No. 3 — Choose positive influences

“Don’t let your character change color with your environment. Find out who you are, and let it stay its true color,” Scott wrote in a letter.

Reaching out to those with special needs, new students and those being picked on were some of the examples of the legacy Scott left for others to follow. Following her death, her family received emails and calls from those who she had helped and befriended, and those she went out of her way to show kindness to.

Dave Sanders, the lone teacher to be killed in the Columbine shooting, was remembered during the presentation for helping to save the lives of students while walking into the face of danger. Sanders confronted the gunmen at the school, trying to convince them to not harm others, ultimately being killed protecting others. Sanders was referred to as one of the heroes of Darrell Scott, Rachel’s father.

No. 4 — Speak with kindness

Words have the ability to hurt or heal.

Scott was awarded the National Kindness Award Student of the Year in 2001, two years after her death. While it was noted in the presentation that she was not perfect, Scott was a normal teenager who treated people with kindness and respect. She reached out to the unreached and targeted those who were often left out.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans can offer,” Scott had written.

No. 5 — Start your own chain reaction

Kinebrew challenged each person to tell people in their lives how much they mean to them. He noted that tomorrow is never promised to anyone.

One story told by Kinebrew was of a phone call received by Darrell Scott following Rachel’s death. The call was from a man in Ohio who did not know the family. He had a dream of a set of eyes with tears falling to the ground and something growing up from it. At the time, this had no meaning to Scott. A few weeks later when Scott was allowed to retrieve his daughter’s belongings from the police station, he opened the diary to find a drawing as described by the man in Ohio. The eyes had 13 tears (the number of those killed at Columbine) falling from them and a rose coming up out of the ground where the tears were falling.

Kinebrew thanked everyone for taking part in the presentation and encouraged each to accept Rachel’s Challenge.

Deem expressed his appreciation to all those who played a part in making Rachel’s Challenge a success in Meigs County.

“I would like to thank the Meigs Local Board of Education, the County Commissioners, local businesses, the Meigs Middle School staff, the entire Meigs, Eastern and Southern Local school districts and anybody else that helped support and promote Rachel’s Challenge.”

Rachel’s Challenge is a non-profit, non-political, non-religious organization based in Littleton, Colorado.

In addition to the Rachel’s Challenge presentations, several local businesses showed their support for Rachel’s Challenge by displaying “Start A Chain Reaction” on signs at their respective businesses. The Meigs County Commissioners also passed a resolution in support of the program.