Michael Guerin Sr. of South Buffalo and his son, Michael Jr., listened with rapt attention Monday as a speaker from Littleton, Colo., shared the life philosophy of 17-year-old Rachel J. Scott, the first victim in a 1999 shooting massacre at Columbine High School.
Her admonition for others to start their own “chain reaction of kindness” has become the basis for “Rachel’s Challenge,” a nationwide school outreach program dedicated to the prevention of teen violence.
“I’m inspired by knowing I’ve got to join the chain here, make the reaction and impact other people’s lives and be kinder to those people I might avoid or prejudge. I need to stop doing that,” said Guerin Sr., at the conclusion of Monday’s program at Lorraine Academy.
“We’re all guilty of that and need to replace it with some kindness,” he added. “I want to help with her mission. So I’m definitely inspired.”
His 11-year-old son is a sixth-grader at Lorraine Academy, where parents and administrators reached out to the “Closing the Gap” program to bring Rachel’s Challenge to the school. “Closing the Gap” is an initiative funded by Catholic Charities of Western New York.
Earlier in the day Monday, Lorraine Academy students were invited to join the newly formed “Friends of Rachel” club, making them ambassadors of kindness and goodwill.
“These ambassadors are coming up with different ideas and activities we can do in the community. Some might want to help out in a soup kitchen. Others might want to donate their time cleaning up the community,” Correa explained.
Jimmy Braden, of Littleton, Colo., has brought Rachel’s Challenge to several other schools in Western New York over his four years with the program.
“Our goal is to get these students to understand that it’s OK to be kind to each other, and that you can really have a positive impact on people’s lives when you just reach out and smile at them sometimes,” Braden said following Monday’s program.
Shortly after enduring the horror of Rachel’s murder, her parents, Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott, learned of the impact their daughter had on the lives of numerous others who, after Rachel died, shared their stories in letters, phone calls and emails. Rachel’s parents soon after came upon her journals and other essays revealing Rachel’s sophisticated and profound sense of justice.
Braden said Rachel’s written words inspired Darrell Scott to share them with other youth.
“A lot people ask him: ‘How can you do this? How can you relive this over and over?’ And his answer is: ‘How can I not?’ ” said Braden.
Lorraine Academy Principal Todd Miklas said the Rachel’s Challenge program is a welcome addition to the school.
“We have a very diverse [student] population, and with that, oftentimes we’re seeing that there’s some bullying and some harassment and intimidation issues going on. We looked at how can we bring the school together? How can we make a change and cast the stone that’s going to make the ripple [effect]?” said Miklas.