Chain reaction begins

Hundreds of students, parents, families, the Fort Dodge community, crowded Fort Dodge Senior High Wednesday to accept Rachel’s Challenge.

Rachel’s Challenge is inspired by Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting in Columbine, Colo., in April 1999. Scott, in her diaries, wrote extensively about inclusion and starting a “chain reaction” of kindness.

So many attended the event Wednesday that the senior high gymnasium bleachers were quickly filled and extra seats had to be brought out for the guests still filing in.

Doug Van Zyl, Fort Dodge Community School District superintendent, said the culmination of a week-long event held in Fort Dodge’s schools is meant to inspire not only students, but the Fort Dodge community in its entirety.

“From tragedy some great things happen,” Van Zyl said. “This will truly have an impact on not only your lives, but the climate and culture of our community.”

Colleen Kirk, Rachel’s Challenge presenter, visited this week with Fort Dodge’s school students and spoke with the community as a whole Wednesday about Scott’s message.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed being in your community, spending time with your kids,” Kirk said.

Kirk asked the audience if they had lost anyone close in the last few years. Many hands raised. Kirk dedicated the program to those who had been lost.

The program opened with words from Scott’s diary.

“I have this theory,” Scott wrote, “if one person will go out of their way to show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same.”

Video was shown of that day in 1999, the aftermath of when two young shooters killed 13 students and one teacher at Columbine. Scott was the first to be killed. The event was not about the shooting, though. It was about Scott’s life, devoted singularly to kindness.

“She wasn’t a superhuman or a saint,” Kirk said. “She was committed to reaching out to people.”

Scott specifically dedicated herself to reaching out to special needs students, new students and students who were bullied. After Scott’s death, there were many stories from her peers of the positive impact she’d had on their lives.

“Sometimes,” Kirk said, “we have no idea how a kind word or kind action can change a life. Truly, it’s the small things.”

She added, “Never give up treating people with kindness and compassion.”

One of Scott’s idols, Kirk said, was Anne Frank.

“They each set goals for their life that became true, even though it was seemingly impossible,” Kirk said. “If Rachel hadn’t taken time to write her dreams in a diary … I wouldn’t be here speaking to you.”

In her final diary, Scott wrote, “I won’t be average.” Next to the words is a hole from the bullet that killed her.

“This morning I told your students none of them are average,” Kirk said. “Rachel truly believed that.”

Kirk asked the audience to think of the people in their lives, the person who means the most to them. She challenged the audience to tell this person, their loved ones, the positive impact they’ve had on their lives.

“I challenge you to start your own chain reaction,” she said. “Start a chain reaction with those closest to you.”

Concluding the program, Kirk gave the community five simple challenges. Rachel’s Challenge.

Look for the best in others. Dream big. Choose positive influences. Speak with kindness. Start your own chain reaction.

“It just starts with one. Please be that one,” Van Zyl said. “Let’s start that chain reaction here in Fort Dodge.”