Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Rachel’s Challenge: Start a chain reaction of kindness November 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:35 AM

Rachel Scott, the inspiration for Rachel's Challenge.

SWAT TEAMS pushed toward the school. Students fled. Parents checked lists for students’ names. Mothers embraced sons and daughters. Tears fell.

I watched as the tragic scene unfolded Tuesday night in the Faribault High School Performing Arts Center during a presentation of Rachel’s Challenge. The non-profit, through video footage and a speaker, shared the story of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre that left 12 students and one teacher dead and 27 wounded in 22 minutes. Rachel Scott, 17, was the first killed, as she sat outside eating lunch.

Her story inspired formation of Rachel’s Challenge, now the largest school assembly program in the country. The program reverberates with the message to treat others with kindness, just as Rachel did.

“People will never know how far a little kindness can go,” Rachel wrote in a “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” essay she penned for a high school class shortly before her April 20 death. She urged others to begin a chain reaction by showing kindness and compassion to others.

This teen, who befriended others, chose Anne Frank as her role model, kept journals and expected to die young, has significantly impacted the world, just as she predicted. At age 13, Rachel traced her handprints on the back of a dresser and wrote: “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of hearts.”

Rachel Joy Scott touched my heart Tuesday night. And judging from the attentive audience, some of whom were wiping tears from their eyes like me, she touched many hearts.

Owatonna native Sarah Branion was so inspired by Rachel’s message that she decided to dedicate her life to Rachel’s Challenge, she told audience members. She presented Tuesday evening’s program, one that included five challenges.

Tagged as “Rachel’s Challenges,” Branion encouraged attendees to:

1) ELIMINATE PREJUDICES in your heart. Look for the best in others. Give people three chances before judging or labeling them.


The back of Rachel's last journal, found in her backpack. She wrote on the cover: "I won't be labeled as average."

2) DARE TO DREAM. Write down your goals and keep a journal for 30 days, leaving a legacy for your family. (Rachel left six journals for her family.)

3) CHOOSE POSITIVE INFLUENCES. Input determines output.

4) Use KIND WORDS. Little acts of kindness can make a huge difference in the lives of others.

5) START A CHAIN REACTION of love, kindness and compassion in your family and community.

As I contemplated those five challenges, I also considered the words of Craig Scott, Rachel’s brother. He was with his friends, Matt and Isaiah, in the school library, where most of the Columbine students died. Isaiah, one of only a few black students in an all-white school, was taunted with racial slurs before he was killed. Craig recalled Isaiah’s final words: “I wanna see my mom.”

Rachel’s first challenge: Eliminate prejudices in your heart.


(For more information about Rachel’s Challenge, go to http://rachelschallenge.org. Thank you to the Faribault Rotary Club for bringing this powerful and inspiring program to Faribault. Images are courtesy of Rachel’s Challenge.)