Rachel's Challenge coming to Hempfield Area

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Shortly before she died in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, 17-year-old Rachel Scott wrote in her diary, "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. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."

This quote has sparked a campaign of kindness that has reached more than 21 million people to date and will soon include Hempfield Area High School in Hempfield and its surrounding community.

On Wednesday, Rachel’s Challenge, a motivational speaking group that was created by Rachel’s parents based on her writings and life, will offer a presentation on kindness for students, staff and administrators during the school day. At 7 p.m., members of the community are invited to hear an inspirational message in the high school auditorium.

As the 2014-2015 school year comes into full swing, assistant principal David Vezendy said the timing is perfect.

“It’s an appropriate message at this time of year to get things kicked off in the right direction and give everybody a positive start,” he said.

Mr. Vezendy said the hope is that it will infiltrate the already positive culture and climate of the school and reach those who may feel lost in the shuffle of 2,000 students.

To ensure the message is carried throughout the school year, 100 teacher-selected students will receive special training to carry on Rachel’s legacy of kindness, respect and generosity based on the motivation they hear that day.

Teacher Sarah Kucherer said they chose to bring in Rachel’s Challenge because of the followup training.

“We didn’t want to have just one great inspirational morning and have it fizzle,” she said. “We wanted to give the kids the tools to carry on and do more with it because they have big ideas and just need guidance in getting them done.”

Senior Jessica Eichner, 17, is one of the students selected to receive the training. After she experienced bullying, she started her own conspiracy of kindness by hanging posters with positive, encouraging messages throughout the school.

The posters were well-received, so when a few students came forward asking to make posters of their own, she sought the help of her guidance counselor and established the United Spartans. Also known as the Kindness Club, it has a mission to spread kindness, help others and create a more united environment within the school.

“Being a teenager in this generation is really difficult because of all the social media that we have. It’s really hard to focus on your schoolwork while you’re worrying about what your peers have to say about you,” she said. “My whole goal for the club is to make kids feel more comfortable when they come to school and hopefully make everyone else more accepting.”

The club was established last year and is composed of 70 students from grades 9-12. Since its inception, they’ve hosted Acts of Kindness Week, during which members performed random acts of kindness among the student body, and sold paper “bricks” for a quarter on which students could write or draw inspirational messages to be hung on a “Wall of Inspiration.”

Ms. Kucherer, the club’s adviser, said their acts of kindness are starting to have a trickle effect and have sparked awareness among the students. She’s even observed students pointing out when someone says or does something unkind.

Money from the sale of the bricks was used to help bring Rachel’s Challenge to the school. Other service clubs, such as the Gay Straight Alliance, the National Honor Society, student government, Spartan Army and Christians in Action provided funding as well.

Junior Jacob Iezzi, 16, said the students wanted to bring in something that would actually make a difference and felt that Rachel’s Challenge would be the most successful for their school. Jacob serves as vice president of the United Spartans and was one of the 100 selected to receive training to carry on the mission of Rachel’s Challenge and start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.

“I’m really hoping that we can keep it going as a team and keep that trickle effect going of everyone being nice to each other,” he said.

Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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