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Columbine victim’s father crosses nation stressing need for positive thoughts

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Rachel's Challenge

By Stephen Thomas

 HEBRON ESTATES - Darrell Scott could be the most important link in a very positive chain, a link to the anchor, his daughter, Rachel.

The first victim during a shooting at Columbine High School near Denver, Colorado, in April 1999, Rachel was one of twelve students and a teacher killed during the tragedy, with another 27 wounded.

Since that time Rachel's legacy lives on via Rachel's Challenge, a special program designed to raise student awareness about positive thoughts and behaviors toward themselves and others.

"You just might start a chain reaction," Scott told North Bullitt and Hebron Middle School students during a Rachel's Challenge presentation sponsored by the Youth Service Center at North Bullitt's gymnasium.

Rachel's Challenge was based on writings found in Rachel's diary as well as an essay, "My Ethics, My Codes of Life," written six weeks prior to the shooting. Scott said the essay challenged the reader, twice, to keep a positive life attitude.

"A life committed to kindness can change the world and start a chain reaction," Scott quoted from the essay, echoing the Rachel's Challenge theme.

Youth Service Center coordinator Amy Risley said the presentation had "a major effect" on students.

"It's hard to change character and enforce positive influence," said Risley. "We have kids who are trying to figure themselves out. They see (from the presentation) that they don't have to be tough, or to blend in. We have the power to change people's lives and have a positive influence."

Risley mentioned that many younger students were unaware of the Columbine incident. Scott said students' ignorance of the event helped focus the story more toward Rachel and her message.

"In a way it has a shocking benefit to the story," he said.

The program featured five challenges drawn from Rachel's writings, the first dealing with prejudice. Rather than asking students to try eliminating prejudice, Scott said to focus on a positive goal.

"There's a better way to approach it," he said. "If you look for the best in others, you'll help to eliminate prejudice."

Scott translated Rachel's idea, telling students if they looked hard enough that they would find a light in others.

"When you wake up each morning, tell yourself to look for the best in people," he added.

Rachel's second challenge centered on her dare to dream.

"Dream big," Scott said. "Write goals and keep a journal."

He encouraged rewriting goals and adding newer, stronger goals once initial goals have been reached.

As a reminder to students, Scott challenged them to live their dreams, no matter what they were, and believe in them no matter how impossible they seemed.

"Never stop dreaming," he said. "Nothing is as important as the ability to believe in yourself and make a difference in this world. Don't let friends or enemies influence you away from what is right."

Scott compared Rachel and her journal writings to Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who kept a diary in Nazi Germany prior to her death. He mentioned that both girls created and achieved hefty goals in their shortened lives. He encouraged students to read Frank's diary.

According to Scott, Frank and Rachel both died in their teens and both perished on April 20, the birthday of Adolph Hitler. He said the two students responsible for the tragedy selected that date because of Hitler.

Scott said Frank wanted to be a famous writer, which she became once her diary was released. Frank wanted to continue living after death, which she does through the retellings of her famous story. Frank also wanted to write something that would impress the world, which also happened.

Rachel had a goal that her hands would touch millions of people in a positive way. Scott noted that over 15 million people have attended Rachel's Challenge presentations.

Rachel also hoped that her individual kindness would result in a chain reaction of positive influence throughout the world. Scott said Rachel's Challenge was shared by as many as 50 presenters in many countries.

Rachel's third challenge was choosing positive influences. Scott said the shooters chose a life of violence, while Rachel was committed to a life of passion and positive influence.

"She reached out to the disabled, those who were new at school or picked on by others," said Scott. "We heard so many amazing stories, dozens of friends who said Rachel reached out to them."

Those actions epitomized Rachel's fourth challenge: Kind words and actions leading to huge results.

One story Scott heard involved Rachel befriending a new student, who recently experienced the loss of her mother, treated harshly by others in the cafeteria. The student told Scott that Rachel then sat with her and turned her worst day of school into her best.

The cafeteria story was later presented in an award-winning film viewed by over 50 million people, Scott said.

Another Rachel story involved her standing up for a disabled student against two large bullies. Scott said the student admitted to contemplating suicide at the time of the occurrence.

"He told me, 'Rachel saved my life by being kind'," Scott recalled.

Scott addressed bullying, saying he had met with the families of many suicide victims over the past decade.

"I found out bullies can be sweet, innocent looking girls, or they can be small boys," he said.

Scott mentioned the five words most commonly uttered by a bully after something serious took place, such as a suicide by the victim.

"If I had only known - that's what bullies say afterward," he said. "Never say that. Our words can heal and our words can hurt."

For Rachel's fifth challenge, Scott reminded that little acts of kindness can go a long way.

To prove this, he mentioned events in which schools created paper chains. Paper strips are stapled together with each strip containing a random act of kindness performed by a student.

Scott mentioned one school with a paper chain almost three miles in length, containing 128,000 random acts of kindness. He said later this year the cities of Houston and Atlanta will complete a friendly challenge for the longest kindness chain.

At the end of the presentation Scott asked students to close their eyes and think of 10 people closest to them in their lives. He reminded them to treat their words with loved ones as special, in case they never have an opportunity to speak again.

Scott then asked those accepting Rachel's Challenge to raise their hands. A room full of hands responded.

"I see Rachel's hands reflected through yours," he said. "You just might start a chain reaction."

North Bullitt principal Tracey Lamb praised Scott for his positive and realistic approach in continuing to honor his daughter's legacy.

"Mr. Scott has given us some challenges," she told the students. "Take what he said through Rachel's message... take it to your heart and follow through."

The challenges hit home for North Bullitt freshman students Allison Duggins and Destiny Hurt. They said a friend was bullied and committed suicide in the past year.

"I could've stopped it," Hurt said following Scott's presentation. "I wasn't brave enough to stop it."

Duggins said the girls learned to accept Rachel's Challenge. She had an opportunity to tell Scott they would continue the challenge in the future.

"Treat others the way you want to be treated," Duggins said.

Scott believed newer technology, such as texting and Internet community sites, made issues different for today's students. He mentioned a difference between confrontation words and distance words.

"Some people who bully feel it's less harmful from a distance, when they're online," he said. "Sometimes that hurts more."

Risley said a Rachel's Challenge group might be established by student volunteers. She said the group could allow opportunities to get students involved in various activities.

She mentioned that Hebron would hang a banner reading, "I accept Rachel's Challenge," with room for students to sign it and list their individual goals.

Scott reminded that positively phrasing goals and ideas helped to keep students in a right frame of mind for future life actions, especially in a society focused upon negative aspects. He was pleased that Rachel's Challenge could supply such a positive message to students.

"Kids are not wanting to be mean, but they're swamped with so much negativity," he said. "If they can hear a positive story, or a song, or a parable, it makes so much more of a difference."

For more information about Rachel Scott and Rachel's Challenge visit www.rachelschallenge.org.