‘Rachel’s Challenge’ coming here

Heather Latter

She had a theory that “if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”
Those words, written by Rachel Scott shortly before her death in the Columbine High School massacre back in 1999, are the basis for the program “Rachel’s Challenge,” which will be presented here in Rainy River District this fall.
“It’s just a wonderful program,” enthused Steve Latimer, youth justice co-ordinator with the local United Native Friendship Centre.
“It’s all about starting a chain reaction of kindness and just changing the way kids act towards other kids,” he explained.
The mission of “Rachel’s Challenge” is to inspire, equip, and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business, and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.
Latimer took the initiative to bring “Rachel’s Challenge” here after seeing the program at Falls High School across the river last year.
“While I was over there in the gym with hundreds of kids, you could have heard a pin drop in there,” he recalled.
He then looked into how much it would cost to bring the message here and set out to make it happen.
Three presenters of “Rachel’s Challenge” will offer up the program to every student in Grades 6-12 in the district from Sept. 28-30.
“That’s over 2,000 students,” Latimer stressed, noting all three school boards in the area (Rainy River District School Board, Northwest Catholic District School Board, and Seven Generations Education Institute) will participate.
He said the school boards will bus their students to the assemblies since it would be far too expensive to go into each and every school with “Rachel’s Challenge.”
The first day will see three assemblies, each one hour and 15 minutes long, at the Townshend Theatre. The second day will feature two assemblies, as well as a peer training session in the afternoon that selected students will attend.
Then there will be a session for the public that evening.
The final day of the program will be held in Atikokan, with students from Mine Centre and Lac La Croix attending there.
“What they do for the first 10 minutes is take the students back to Columbine in 1999,” Latimer explained. “They talk about what was going on there and what happened.
“It’s captivating,” he added. “The kids are just drawn to this because it’s about other kids their age.
“And then the program goes on to talk about Rachel, her thoughts, writings, and diaries,” he continued.
“They challenge the students to take up her cause. Don’t let her have died in vain.”
Latimer still is seeking funds to pay for the presentations, with the cost being more than $10,000 to bring “Rachel’s Challenge” to the district.
“Plus another $1,300 or $1,400 to get some extras that I’d like to have—banners for every school and a set of books for each of the high school libraries,” he noted.
But Latimer is thrilled with the response he already has seen from the community.
“People of the district of Rainy River always come to the forefront and they always support this community, and they need to be acknowledged and thanked,” he enthused. “The support has just been wonderful.”
Latimer said he’s received nearly three-quarters of the amount just by making presentations to different groups and organizations.
“There’s no doubt we’ll make our financial goal,” he remarked. “Everybody sees the need, acknowledges the need, and wants to help.”
 As the youth justice co-ordinator, Latimer said he took the initiative to bring “Rachel’s Challenge” here as a way to promote positive peer pressure.
“An overwhelming number of kids have ended up in conflict with the law because of a bad decision they made that was directly linked to the friends they keep and negative peer pressure,” he noted.
“This district is full of great kids who excel at the things that they do and they’d be wonderful peers and it would be positive peer pressure from these students,” he reasoned.
“But we need to mobilize them. We need them to think about it,” Latimer stressed. “We need to change this culture where you think about peer pressure as being negative to a culture where students think about peer pressure as being a positive thing.”
Latimer hopes local schools will take up “Rachel’s Challenge.”
“If they want to do that, they’ll be asked to sign the banner,” he explained, saying the banners then will be put up in the schools as a constant reminder to start a chain reaction of compassion and to be a school full of positive peers.
“They will have made a commitment to do this, but ultimately there will have to be some action at each individual school whatever that might be,” Latimer conceded, indicating it will depend on the students and the teachers at each school.
“It’s going to have to come from within,” he acknowledged.
“Am I foolish to think I’m going to change 2,000 students? No, I’m not,” he remarked. “But if we present this to 2,000, we’re going to change a lot of them. We’re going to reach a lot of those kids.
“It just can’t be a bad thing.”
Anyone looking to support “Rachel’s Challenge” locally can contact Latimer at 274-8541.
More information can be found at www.rachelschallenge.org