Rachel’s Challenge: creating a chain reaction of positive change

Photo by Mary O’KEEFE Rachel’s Challenge Todd Lauderdale from the Rachel’s Challenge program spoke to Crescenta Valley High School students on Thursday. The program that challenges students to try a little kindness everyday was inspired by the tragic death of Rachel Scott, the first student shoot and killed at Columbine High School in 1999.


Tragedies often leave those affected searching for answers, sifting through the emotional turmoil for some sort of meaning and solace. While that may never be reached, the journey itself is a healing process of its own, as Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit organization that travels from school to school promoting kindness to fellow students, has been for the families and friends of those killed in the horrific shooting at Columbine High School 11 years ago. Student Rachel Scott was the first killed in the attack that claimed 11 other students and a teacher. Her father Darrell Scott started the program in December of 1999, which serves as both a memorial to Rachel and a campaign to prevent school violence. Rachel’s Challenge came to Crescenta Valley High this past Thursday, putting on hour long presentations in the auditorium for students and then again at night for parents. Although one of the main purposes of the organization is to curb violence amongst youths and especially prevent school shootings, the presentation focused less on violence than on encouraging positive attitudes to audiences.  Rachel was described as a girl who practiced such positive values of kindness and compassion for those around her. The presentation, as many memorials do, celebrated her life rather than focusing on her death. Her remarkable kindness towards others was described through a series of stories told in video interviews of those who knew her: a boy who bullied others in school because he felt isolated until Rachel reached out to him, a man whose terrible day was brightened when Rachel, a complete stranger, helped him change his flat tire, a schoolmate with disabilities who was intent on suicide until meeting Rachel. These portraits of her life and the acts of kindness that defined it were summed up as Rachel’s challenges, challenges because of how much more difficult it can be to show kindness to others in need than it is to ignore them.  Out of the challenges, which included responding to the needs of others and appreciate those close to you, one of the key challenges was one featured in an essay Rachel wrote shortly before she died.

“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,” Rachel wrote. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”  This “chain reaction” of kindness was what Rachel’s challenge presenter Todd Lauderdale described as “Rachel’s legacy,” as the video showcased how those touched by Rachel‘s kindness went on to further that same brand of generosity and compassion with others after her death. Lauderdale impressed upon the students in attendance that “this is the kind of legacy your life can have, too.”

It is hoped by organizers that Rachel’s legacy can live on through youth, encouraging them to promote the kind of compassion that will keep incidents like Columbine from ever happening again.