One person can make a difference.
This was the message to Manawa students from the Rachel’s Challenge presentation on Friday, March 21.
Rachel Scott was a 17-year-old high school junior who lived a life committed to kindness.
That life ended abruptly 15 years ago in Columbine, Colorado.
“She was simply eating her lunch outside with a friend when two gunmen walked up and shot her,” said Cody Hodges, who presented the program at Little Wolf Junior/Senior High School.
A total of 12 students and one teacher were killed on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col. Twenty-seven others were injured.
Rachel was the first person killed.
The Columbine shootings rank as one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history as well as one of the deadliest episodes of school violence.
SWAT teams entered the school 47 minutes after the shootings started. Five hours passed before law enforcement declared the school under control.
Hodges described the tense moments that followed.
“Parents were praying and hoping that their child had somehow survived,” he said. “Some families were left in stunned sorrow.”
The focus of Rachel’s Challenge was not on how she died, but on how she lived her life, Hodges explained.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where things like this happen,” he told the Manawa students. “We are not guaranteed tomorrow.”
Hodges encouraged each student to live a life of kindness, like Rachel did.
“People change when we treat them with kindness,” he said. “Kindness will always make things better. You might just start a chain reaction.”
Before she died, Rachel challenged her friends to start a chain reaction of compassion and kindness.
“People never know how far a little kindness will go,” she had written in her diary. “You just might start a chain reaction.”
Her five challenges were:
• Look for the best in others.
• Dream big.
• Choose positive influences.
• Speak with kindness.
• Start your own chain reaction.
“It doesn’t matter who you were when you walked in here,” Hodges said. “What matters is who you are when you walk out.”
He challenged the students to “take a hard look at your life and the impact it has on other people.”
“You are never too young to make a difference and to make things better,” Hodges said. “Every one of you can be great. Every one of you can make a difference.”
Students were invited to sign the Rachel’s Challenge banner to show their commitment to making a difference by living a life of kindness.
The Student Council members, other students and staff members attended a training session after the presentation. The hope is for the students to embrace and expand on Rachel’s challenges throughout the school and the community.
“Rachel’s Challenge and the training for a Friends of Rachel club has given us an opportunity to take the energy and help create a more positive school culture,” said Mary Eck, student council advisor. “It was a moving program, and we will take that momentum to help make a difference here at the school and the entire community.”
Although Rachel’s Challenge did not directly address bullying, it did encourage students to be kind and accepting of others.
“We tend to (bullying) as quickly as we hear about it,” said Jim Quinn, dean of students. “The problem is the kids don’t always tell you and then we have no way of knowing.”
“We are trying to change the attitude and we are doing it here,” he said. “We have some good things happening and we are heading in the right direction.”
Quinn has the philosophy that “there are no bad kids in the world, just kids who make bad choices sometimes.”
“Manawa CARES and other community sponsors felt this program was important for our community and our youth,” said Marilyn Herman, a member of Manawa CARES.
She noted that Manawa CARES matched the funds raised by the student organizations and community partners to show that students and the school community that they are “part of a positive culture that believes in them and their success in school and life.” “In addition to the morning all-school program, Manawa CARES felt the afternoon session to train middle and high school students to continue projects in the coming year in support of Rachel’s five challenges is vital in making a difference,” Herman said. “In the future, we will support those student-led efforts at the high school, middle school and elementary schools with resources (money and volunteers) from the community. In this way, the community, students, families and teachers can work together to show we care.”
“I don’t think people realize how much their words can affect other people; this presentation really helps open people’s eyes.” – Leslie Murphy
“It was wonderful and will have a positive influence on people who don’t have one. It was really insightful.” – Jordyn Sachtjen
“It inspired me to help people more than I have already done. I love giving hugs and cheering up others.” – Ashlei Young
“I hope this will help eliminate bullying. My sister gets bullied a lot.” – Brandy Burns
“I hope some of the bullying does stop. I see lots of people going through it every day; sometimes even me.” – Bryce Rausch
“When I first moved here, I was bullied a lot. Now, five years later, it is a lot better.” – Jacob Junek
“I do believe everybody should treat everybody kindly. That’s what is missing from the world today – everybody treating everybody as equals.” Terrel Welch