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September 26, 2012

Rachel’s Challenge brings message of kindness, compassion to Ferndale Schools

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — It was a few weeks after his daughter was brutally murdered that Darrell Scott received a mysterious phone call from a man named Frank.

 

Frank, who lived in Ohio and had never met Darrell or his family, told him that he had been having a recurring dream that he could not get out of his head. The dream was about Darrell’s daughter, Rachel, who was one of 13 people killed in the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Rachel was just 17 years old and less than two months away from graduation.

 

In his dream, Frank saw a vivid image of Rachel’s eyes with tears coming down. Her tears rained down from above, all the way to the ground, where some type of plant or flower was beginning to grow. Frank asked Darrell if the dream meant anything to him, but Darrell told him that he was sorry, but it did not.

 

A short time after that phone call, police in Colorado told Darrell that he could come to the station to pick up Rachel’s backpack, which they had been holding as evidence ever since the shooting. He rushed down to the police station to grab his late daughter’s belongings, eager to inspect the items that had been by her side during the final moments of her life. He found one of the many journals that Rachel was always writing in and was stunned by what he saw inside.

 

There, on the last page of the last journal that Rachel Joy Scott ever wrote, was a drawing: In it, there were a pair of eyes with tears pouring down from them like rain. And at the bottom, there was a beautiful rose blooming up from the ground. It was as if the unthinkable tragedy of Rachel’s death was now giving rise to new life.

 

This story was relayed to a crowd at Ferndale High School Sept. 21 during a community event hosted by Rachel’s Challenge, the nonprofit organization that the Scott family created in Rachel’s honor, inspired by the journal writings that they discovered after her death.

 

According to Aaron Kinebrew, a presenter for Rachel’s Challenge and a friend of the Scott family, Rachel’s message in these journals was a simple one about the power of human connection: “People will never know how far a little kindness can go”; “Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer”; “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.”

 

The latter phrase became the mission statement for Rachel’s Challenge, which began in Littleton, Colo., more than a decade ago and to date has reached more than 18 million people by visiting schools across the U.S. and abroad to spread these ideals. Its goal is to create safer, more positive learning environments worldwide and continue Rachel’s real-life legacy of reaching out to students who were different, who were picked on by others or who felt lost, depressed, lonely or isolated.

 

As Kinebrew told the audience at FHS, “Rachel challenged all of us to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. So go to the people you love and tell them how much you care about them, and don’t be afraid to reach out to new people just because they’re different than you. Your gesture of kindness might be exactly what they needed.”

 

Earlier that day, Kinebrew gave presentations at Coolidge Intermediate School and Ferndale Middle School, where students were asked to accept the five steps of Rachel’s Challenge: look for the best in others; dream big; choose positive influences; speak with kindness, not cruelty; and start your own chain reaction. Students at each school also formed their own FOR (Friends of Rachel) Club, which will help them continue their partnership with Rachel’s Challenge over the long term in order to create permanent cultural change at their school.

 

According to Rachel’s Challenge, each day about 160,000 students do not go to school because they are bullied, teased and harassed. The organization provides a series of self-empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults with the tools to combat school bullying and violence, as well as to transform feelings of isolation and despair into a new culture of kindness and compassion.

 

While the crowd at FHS was a small one of only a few dozen adults, teens and children, its message appeared to resonate strongly with many of the guests. Some of them were crying or were visibly choked up as Kinebrew delivered his presentation, which mixed spoken words with video clips.

 

“I thought it was terrific — intelligent, emotional and real,” said Ferndale 43rd District Court Judge Joe Longo. “It didn’t overplay the tragedy (of Columbine) and end up burying its positive message. I thought it was a great way to teach kids some pretty complex concepts without talking down to them.”

 

The event was co-sponsored by Ferndale Youth Assistance and the David Michael Smith Foundation, which raised the funding needed to bring Rachel’s Challenge to Ferndale. David Michael Smith was a 16-year-old FHS student who was killed in July 2006 after being struck by a train.

 

Smith’s mother, Dianna Smith, attended all three Rachel’s Challenge presentations Sept. 21 and was thoroughly impressed. She noted that while the program for the younger Coolidge students was deliberately kept very positive and upbeat, the one for students at Ferndale Middle School often elicited powerful emotional outpourings. Much of what she saw and heard hit very close to home.

 

“This really brings (students’) own feelings to the forefront and makes them think about how their words and actions affect other people,” Smith said. “I was very moved by this program and would love to bring it here again. So much of it reminded me of my son. David was such a giving person — it seems like he and Rachel were very similar. When I hear her message, it just makes me think of him.”

 

For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachels challenge.org or call (303) 470-3000.

 

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.