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Starting a chain reaction

Rachel’s Challenge brings message of compassion to local schools

August 31, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

In 1945, Anne Frank died of typhus she contracted because of the horrid conditions in a German concentration camp-a victim of Nazi persecution perpetuated by an undercurrent of hatred.

Fast forward to April 20, 1999, the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday, halfway around the world at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. There, Rachel Scott suffered four gunshot wounds that killed her. She too was a victim of people who let a culture of hate flood their worldview.

Both girls were in their teens. Both dreamed of touching people's lives long after their death. Both of their writings live on today.

Article Photos

Several people sign a banner declaring that they accept Rachel’s Challenge following the community assembly at the Marshalltown High School/Community Auditorium Thursday night. The presentation was the last of three assemblies that brought Rachel Scott message to Marshalltown as part of the Not In Our Town campaign.

Thursday, as part of the continued Not In Our Town effort to combat bullying, Rachel's Challenge, the non-profit that gets its moniker from the murdered teen, came to Marshalltown to spread its message of hope and healing.

Three 1-hour presentations at Marshalltown High and Middle Schools and another for the entire community at the MHS/Community Auditorium as well as a Friends of Rachel workshop highlighted what presenters lauded as Rachel's virtues.

Rachel's Challenge staff beckoned students and adults alike to live by Rachel's mantras: look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start your own chain reaction.

"If you look for the best, you will find the best," said, Keyona Williams, a Rachel's Challenge presenter. "You have the power to be that person."

Following the noon Not In Our Town courthouse rally, MHS students turned out for a Friends of Rachel meeting aimed to prompt students to start their own Friends of Rachel club.

Williams encouraged students to share their stories and armed them with tools to combat bullying and lay the groundwork for projects that foster a community of togetherness.

She called the Friends of Rachel a way of life, saying it is about solutions and about being leaders.

Joe Cahill, a 16-year-old MHS junior, said the message of Rachel's Challenge is one that helps students help themselves and help others.

"It's just the small things you do every day that can make a big difference," he said.

Several students interviewed said they decided to become involved in Friends of Rachel because they want everyone to feel welcome in their school. Williams told students to take what they were feeling in the wake of the Rachel's Challenge presentation and extend it to their community.

She told them to be for things (a double entendre since the word is an acronym for Friends of Rachel) instead of against things. She urged them to look at and condemn behavior instead of demonizing the actors of that behavior.

Bullies usually lash out because they are afraid, are having a tough time with something or because nobody ever reached out to them. Williams beckoned students to reach out.

Carol Ealy said her 12-year-old daughter Kassidy practically dragged her to the community assembly.

"It hit home," she said of Rachel's story and the Columbine Massacre. "Something like that could happen here."

Coleen Kirk, the Rachel's Challenge presenter for community assembly, said it's important to remember that the things and people we choose to surround ourselves with make a difference - for better or worse, they affect who we become.

The words those ideas give rise to have the power to hurt or to heal, she said.

MHS Principal Aiddy Phomvisay called the program "powerful," saying it has given students momentum. In order to break the mold of students looking to adults to tell them what to do, it's important to let youth know that their voices matter, he added.

"This isn't just a show-putting on a T-shirt-it's about every day, every year coming in and doing targeted acts of kindness," he said.



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