Students, parents and community members attended a presentation of Rachel's Challenge at Milford High School on Monday.
Eighth grader Rachel Harding was so moved by Rachel's Challenge that she brought her mother to a repeat presentation Monday night.
Fellow eighth grader Jamie Fuhr was so impressed by the hour-long assembly that she brought her father to the evening performance.
And ninth grader Jena Melvin was so inspired she joined other Milford High School students in forming a local Rachel's Challenge group to help continue the program's message of compassion.
"I had a friend who felt trapped and took her own life, so this reminded me of her and how I wish she was still here," Melvin said. "So about 20 other students and I met today and shared the reasons why Rachel's Challenge moved us and talked about what we could do in the community and our school to make this more than just a one-day thing."
Rachel's Challenge is a nationally-recognized motivational program with an anti-bullying message based on the life and writings of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first victim of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.
Following Scott's death, her father began presenting his daughter's story to students and using her journals and drawings to promote compassion and understanding. To date, the Rachel's Challenge program has reached more than 18 million people.
This week, that program was presented to students at Milford High School, Milford Central Academy and Milford Middle School.
About 150 parents, students and community members also attended a presentation on Monday evening.
"It was beyond my expectations," said Milford resident Lora Harding, who attended Monday's presentation at the request of her daughter, Rachel. "It was very moving and I hope everyone who saw it really takes it to heart and follows through."
Rachel Harding said she's been the victim of bullying and felt a special connection to Rachel Scott's story.
"I cried when I saw it," she said. "What I thought was really cool was how she had a premonition she would die young and how she kept journals just like Anne Frank."
The Rachel's Challenge program, presented this week by J.B. Braden, draws several parallels between Scott and Frank, the iconic 15-year-old Holocaust victim whose journals, published as "The Diary of a Young Girl," are considered to be among the most important works of the 2th century.
Video used during the presentation compares quotes from the girls' journals and the influence of their writing.
"Rachel was inspired by Anne Frank," Braden said. "Anne Frank had three goals, which were to be an amazing writer, to continue living past her death and that her writing would have an impact on the world. Rachel also had goals, five of them, that I'm challenging each of you to follow in your own lives."
Braden encouraged those in attendance to look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start their own chain reaction of compassion.
"People go through things every day that we don't know anything about and might never realize how smiling or asking how they're doing can make a huge difference in their lives," Braden said. "During her life, Rachel never did anything big or famous. What she did, everyone in this room tonight can do, and that is treat people with kindness and compassion."
Jamie Fuhr said she was so moved by that message that she asked her father to accompany her to Monday night's presentation.
"I teared up a bit," she said. "It was really touching and I wanted him to come back with me so I could see it again."
Her father, Jason, said he was more than happy to make the trip.
"I was only 26 years old when Columbine happened and I remember hearing and reading so much about it," he said. "I wanted to come and learn more about it and about this girl who was killed there."
Meanwhile, Albert Weir, a commissioner with the Delaware Department of Veterans Affairs who attended Monday's presentation, said he would have liked to have seen more emphasis on preventing bullying, teen suicide and school shootings.
"When things like that happen, it's not a surprise to everyone, because these kids are either troubled in school or troubled at home," he said. "The Columbine shooting, for instance, could have been stopped if the right people did the right thing at the right time. That's why, when people see the warning signs, they need to alert the police or school authorities and stop these things from happening I the first place."