June 20 • 04:10 PM

Rachel's Challenge coming to Almont

Community invited to learn hopeful lessons from tragedy at Columbine

April 21, 2010
ALMONT — Rachel Scott had a theory: kindness would beget kindness.

In a journal entry dated more than a decade ago, Rachel wrote, "I have this theory if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same."

Unfortunately, Rachel didn't live long enough to see her theory proven true. The 17-year-old aspiring writer and artist was the first person to die in the horrendous tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.

But the chain reaction she started through her compassion lives on. Parents, students and community members have a chance to link into the chain at a community presentation of 'Rachel's Challenge' at Almont High School gym at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 27.

Rachel Scott
The widely acclaimed inspirational and motivational program was slated for Almont after special education teacher and student council advisor Colleen Ulmer participated in the program in Rochester where she lives.

"My son attends school there and they brought the group in for a community event and I was just blown away," Ulmer says.

Memorable and electrifying, she adds, with a message that rises above the tragedy of Columbine.

"You can't walk away from it and not feel something," Ulmer says. "It's seeing Rachel's story and how it impacted other people through her journal entries and artwork and then the stories people shared with her parents about her."

Of course the tragedy is a part of the story, Ulmer adds, but the message is one of courage and hope.

"The program gives parents an opportunity to understand what we're looking at now," Ulmer says. "If students feel better about themselves, they tend to do better in school. If they're bullied and picked on, they don't want to go to school."

Ulmer says Rachel's Challenge is to break the cycle by creating a permanent positive culture change in school and elsewhere.

"I don't think kids realize the power their words have and that it's just as easy to be positive as it is to be negative," Ulmer says.

She believes the lesson is especially important now, citing the impersonal nature of today's digital culture.

"We've kind of really seen a growing sense of apathy and indifference, a lack of kindness among the students in general," Ulmer says. "Times are tough but during the Great Depression people came together. Today it seems everyone wants to point fingers and place blame, to be a victim or to victimize someone."

Ulmer says Rachel's Challenge serves as an inspiring reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

"My feeling is the whole concept of character and integrity has been lost," she says. "Look at the whole banking scandal. If those individuals had character and integrity people wouldn't be in this situation. I feel that in our quest to get the numbers and scores we've lost sight of the heart of our students."

The Rachel's Challenge presentation includes audio and video footage of Rachel's life and the Columbine tragedy which "holds students spell-bound...motivates them to positive change in the way they treat others," says

An interactive training session involving adult and student leaders offers information to help sustain the momentum created at the assembly of a desire for positive change. "The training session teaches the 'how to' and ensures that the positive impact will continue," the Web site says.

"It's one of those things that makes the hairs on your arms stand up," Ulmer says. "It's about standing up for one another and understanding that there are certain common things that are right and wrong. It encompasses everything."

Rachel's Challenge will be presented to Middle School students on April 26. High school students will see the presentation during the day on April 27. The community presentation—open to all—will be held at the high school gym at 6:30 p.m.

More information is available at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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