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story.lead_photo.caption Rachel's Challenge presenter Claire Sundermeyer spent Sept. 4, 2019, sharing the encouraging words, and sorrowful history, of Rachel Scott to students within the California school district with a second presentation at the performing arts center. Scott was the first casualty of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Liz Morales / California Democrat.

In February of 1999, Rachel Scott, a 17-year-old Columbine High School student, wrote an essay that told of how just one act of kindness can certainly start a chain reaction.

Six short weeks after Scott completed her essay, "My Ethics, My Code of Life," she was the first of 13 casualties of the Columbine shooting.

Twenty years later, her words of encouragement are being shared across the country through a group of presenters. One such presenter made her way to California Sept. 4.

Claire Sundermeyer is one of 28 presenters for Rachel's Challenge, a bullying and violence prevention program that was founded by Scott's father, Darrell. Darrell founded the program based on his daughter's essays and diary entries.

"Rachel knew in her heart that she was going to change the world," Sundermeyer said. "She loved to write and told her mother her biggest dream was to be a writer and a journalist. After she died, her father found six diaries filled with ways she, and others, could make the world a much better place."

Within the pages of those diaries was a list of challenges Rachel entrusted the world to begin. During Sundermeyer's presentation, her audience learned how they could start.

"The first challenge Rachel wanted to give was to ultimately eliminate all prejudice toward people who are different than you," she said. "Rachel urged us to look for the best in others. She wrote that it's important to give people three chances before you decide you don't like them. Who knows? Maybe they're just having a bad day. Rachel said to simply look in their eyes, look for the best in them and bring it out."

The second challenge is to dream big.

"Write all your goals and dreams down and keep a journal," Sundermeyer said. "Find some way to keep record of your journey. It's highly important to see your movement and your progress."

Thirdly, Rachel asked the world to choose positive influences. Sundermeyer said this challenge largely stemmed from peer pressure occurrences Rachel would see in her day-to-day life at school.

"Don't let your character change color with your environment," Rachel wrote. "Find out who you are and let it stay its true color."

Challenge number four is to make sure one always speaks with kindness.

Lastly, Rachel asked her readers to start their own chain reaction.

"I want you all to place your hand over your heart and close your eyes," Sundermeyer said to her evening presentees at the performing arts center. "I want you to think about all the people in your life that you love the most. Go to these people and start your own chain reaction. Tell them how much they mean to you and encourage them to enact kindness to everyone they see."

Words of appreciation were shared by California Middle School principal Matt Abernathy.

"About seven or eight years ago, Rachel's Challenge came to California and it transformed our school district and community for two to four years after that," Abernathy said. "Students and staff at the schools and even businesses in California were reminded of the event through paper chains of kindness that were made."

Abernathy said these chain links each had an act of kindness written on them and were connected together to form a chain long enough to line the perimeter of Old Riley Field.

"Knowing the community is in support of this sort of thing makes me so proud to be a Pinto."

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