By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published November 24, 2011
Thousands of feet of paper chains were hoisted towards the ceiling of the Georgia Dome on November 11, with each link representing an act of kindness performed by a student in the Atlanta area. Eight thousand of those students were on hand for the Add To The Chain event, sponsored by 11Alive News.
Add To The Chain is a response to “Rachel’s Challenge,” a non-profit movement inspired by the life and writings of Rachel Scott, a 13-year-old high school student who was the first person killed during the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999.
In her diaries and essays, Scott wrote about the power of small acts of kindness and how even a seemingly insignificant act could start a chain reaction of compassion.
“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer,” Scott wrote in a school essay shortly before her death. “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. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Students in schools across Georgia experienced that chain reaction firsthand as they accepted Rachel’s Challenge and began documenting small acts of kindness, each one represented by a small paper link. Each time a student performed one of these small acts, another link was added to the chain.
Over the past year, 11Alive worked with the Scott family and corporate sponsors to bring Rachel’s Challenge to schools in Georgia. What resulted was nearly 10 miles of chains representing various acts of kindness performed by students. These acts of kindness were honored at the Add To The Chain event, which was broadcast live on television.
Queen of Angels School was one of several archdiocesan schools that participated in the movement, along with Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Atlanta; St. Jude the Apostle School, Atlanta; St. John Neumann School, Lilburn; and Christ the King School, Atlanta.
At the event, St. Jude School was recognized as having one of the 14 longest chains in the state.
“It’s been wonderful just to watch,” said Queen of Angels School principal Kathy Wood. She said the school began the program just a couple of months ago but in that short time created a chain of more than 1,400 links, averaging out to about 50 acts of kindness a day.
“It’s innate. It is in them to be kind and compassionate,” Wood said about her students.
Sophia Manley, a seventh-grade student at Queen of Angels, noticed a change in her school after they began the Add To The Chain program.
“It really shows you how much people can be kind,” she said.
The Add To The Chain event at the Georgia Dome also recognized Veterans Day with members of each branch of the military in attendance. The Georgia Air National Guard Band of the South performed the themes songs for each military branch, along with other patriotic staples such as “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”
Several video messages from various celebrities were also shown, thanking the students for their efforts in accepting Rachel’s Challenge and encouraging them to continue the program even though the official yearlong campaign in Georgia has ended. This invitation was welcomed by the schools.
“We are going to keep this going,” said Leigh Ussery, guidance counselor at St. John Neumann School. “It really has created a chain reaction.”
“The school has gotten nicer and nicer by the moment,” said Olivia LaPlume, a sixth-grader at the Lilburn school. “Everyone has tried to do good deeds.”
“Rachel really inspired me. This is a really great program,” added St. John Neumann eighth-grader Michael Bowler.
For the program the acts of kindness did not have to be anything large or significant. Simply helping another student with homework assignments or helping them carry books was enough to earn a link.
Each school dropped off its chain to be included in the event at the Georgia Dome. During the celebration, the chains were attached to a large metal truss and raised toward the ceiling, creating a colorful wall of paper chains representing thousands of acts of kindness.
“We are so proud of what you accomplished today,” said 11Alive anchor Brenda Wood to the cheering crowd of students.
Scott’s father and brother, Darrell and Craig, were also in attendance at the Add To The Chain event and thanked the students for accepting Rachel’s Challenge.
“You are living proof that the chain reaction is alive,” said Darrell. “This is not just about Rachel, it’s about you.
For more information on Rachel Scott and Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.