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Albany accepts 'Rachel's Challenge'

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- "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."

This quote from Rachel Scott, who died in the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, has been the basis of a program known as "Rachel's Challenge" -- a challenge that was formally introduced to Albany on Thursday.

The program, focused on preventing teen bullying and violence, is aimed at bringing a permanent positive culture change to schools, businesses and communities by starting a chain reaction of compassion and kindness.

"We are all here to celebrate community and learn about compassion," said Catherine Glover, Albany Area Chamber of Commerce CEO, at a Rachel's Challenge community leader breakfast. "Not many of us knew Rachel, but we have been touched by her writings."

The main speaker at the breakfast was Darrell Scott, Rachel Scott's father and founder of Rachel's Challenge. He told community leaders of her acts of kindness and of the contents of her diaries that have served as the basis for the program.

It's a presentation that has been made to more than 15 million people in live settings.

"My daughter said she wanted to start a chain reaction, and we've been blessed and amazed by what we have seen," he said. "I'm obviously very proud of my daughter. I'm very proud of her and what she's done."

In an interview with reporters shortly after the event, Scott was asked by The Herald what he believed his daughter might think of the impact the organization has made.

"My daughter was 17 when she died, but to me she will always be a little girl. She would often say, 'This is awesome,'" he said. "I hope she can see what is going on now."

Bringing the concept to Albany came about, in part, as the result of a collaboration between area educators and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

"We know (teen bullying and violence) exists. The only way to beat it is be proactive," said Darrell Sabbs, community benefits coordinator at Phoebe. "My hope is that it gets embraced and it gets supported.

"I think there will be a ripple effect and families will get on board. If adults leaders embrace it, children will follow suit. Everybody has the potential to give kindness and compassion."

Barbara Turner, coordinator for student support services for the Dougherty County School System, has seen firsthand the impact bullying can have on an education system.

"Schools here are facing the same challenges that have been faced in Colorado," she said. "Students are faced with bullying and are at a point where they might take their own life.

"We want to be a part of this change and show that the Dougherty County School System will be involved."

Scott's presentation also included his daughter's essay titled "My Ethics, My Codes of Life" that introduced her theory, as well as 911 dispatch recordings and video taken inside the school and outside on the school grounds the day of the shooting.

The main point the essay: Rather than making a snap judgment, look for the best in a person.

"There are people that draw out the best and worst in us, because that's what they look for," Scott said. "Plant that seed at night (to look for the best in people), and wake up in the morning with that mindset.

The essay was written six weeks before her death.

Footage was also seen of her funeral as it was aired on CNN, and of a testimony from her brother Craig Scott, who was in the library when the shootings were taking place and saw two friends get killed.

Darrell Scott repeated this message to educators at an afternoon session later in the day. Craig Scott, along with his brother Mike Scott, are expected to be in Albany in August to make presentations at the area's middle schools and high schools.