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Marg-Ins - Rising To The Challenge

POSTED September 18, 2012 11:14 p.m.

The only thing that was disappointing about the recent ‘Rachel’s Challenge’ community presentation in Oakdale was how few members of the community turned out.

Maybe it wasn’t publicized well enough, maybe it was on a busy night … but the message is one that deserves to be heard. The presentation was offered earlier in the day for high school students and the focus of Rachel’s Challenge is on anti-bullying.

As a newspaper staff, my co-workers and I knew that the program was being put on for Oakdale High School students. It’s one of those facts you know but then tuck away in the back of your mind. Except as my drive from Escalon back to Oakdale on Thursday was winding down, I received a text from my daughter. I pulled over to read it, realizing it must be lunchtime at school.

Three simple words.

“I love you.”

Now, that could mean more than one thing. Yes, I know my daughter loves me but since it was lunchtime that is sometimes the precursor to “Can you take me and (insert friend’s name here) to lunch? or “Can you bring me some money?”

But it was a little too random, with no hello in front of it, no other words. It just gave me a strange feeling. So rather than text, I called her back.

She picked up quickly, another rarity.

“Hello?”

“Ally? I love you, too. What’s going on?”

“Well, we just had this assembly…”

The anti-bullying assembly had resulted in a challenge to the students. A multi-pronged challenge, from fighting back against bullying to making sure the people you love know how you feel to just extending a hand in friendship to someone who might need it more than you can imagine.

What is unique about this challenge, named for Rachel Joy Scott, is that she was the first student shot and killed during the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999.

My daughter was 3-years-old when Columbine happened. It’s something in the history books for her, not something she remembers personally. But for those of us that do remember, this pre 9-11 tragedy was one of the most devastating incidents of violence we had ever seen on a school campus. The high school-aged gunmen shot and killed 13 (12 students and one teacher) and wounded many more before turning their guns on themselves.

Nearly the same presentation given to students in the Thursday morning assembly was presented for the community that same night. I had thought of attending but wasn’t sure. A co-worker was considering it, too, and both our daughters (mine is a junior, hers is a sophomore) voted in favor of going. They accompanied us to the nighttime event.

When I called my daughter back after getting her text at lunch, I knew it had made an impact on her, so I assured her we could talk about it later. Attending the presentation myself, I had a better understanding of the impetus for Rachel’s Challenge, so we could discuss it.

Rachel seemed to know – from an early age – that she would 1.) make an impact on the world and 2.) die young. Her journals were filled with entries alluding to those points; she outlined her handprints on the back of her dresser and proclaimed that they would someday touch “millions of people’s hearts.” She was the student that reached out to the ‘new’ kids and those many would consider outcasts.

Her message of acceptance and kindness was simple, yet profound for a girl of her young age. It was her desire to start a ‘chain reaction’ of good, for the betterment of society, and through her untimely death, her dream is being realized with the continuation of Rachel’s Challenge.

The program itself was fascinating and I would guess that the couple of dozen other people, parents and community members that came, consider it time well spent. We can all learn a little bit from a 17-year-old girl whose dream was to make a difference.

The latest count on the Rachel’s Challenge website (www.rachelschallenge.org) shows some 18,145,787 people taking part in the program in some way, whether it was simply being at a presentation or facilitating a Friends of Rachel Club somewhere later on. Eighteen-million plus and counting … that’s a lot of hearts for one girl to touch.

Pass it on. Be kind to someone today. It just might make a difference ‑ for them … and you.

Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at mjackson@escalontimes.com or by calling 847-3021.

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