Fulton Junior High School English teacher, Emily Paglia, gave her students the assignment to go out and "pay it forward" in order to make a difference in someone's life. Paglia is the founder of Fulton's "Friends of Rachel," a club recently formed in honor of Rachel Scott, the first of 12 students killed in the 1999 Columbine shootings.
Scott used a journal to expresse her feelings, hopes and dreams along with letters to God, writing in it every day. Shortly before her death, she wrote, "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."
Scott's father and stepmom began "Rachel's Challenge," which encompasses the young woman's positive attitude and compassion for others.
Picking up the challenge in Fulton, Paglia said they would be doing small acts of kindness throughout the year in Rachel's honor and to keep the positive chain reaction going.
Thirteen-year-old Wettering, of Fulton, said when he got the assignment, it inspired him and because he regularly visits a former neighbor and cousin, Eleanor Collins, at Morningstar Residential Care Center, the idea blossomed easily.
"I go (to Morningstar) regularly and thought why not do something for all of the residents there," Wettering said.
Due to the fact that the facility houses 120 residents, he had to set his sights on gifts he could feasibly raise enough money for. After careful consideration, Wettering decided to give every single resident a carnation and set to work on a bottle-and-can drive as well as asking his friends for donations.
"I figured with the flowers I could give something to everyone," he said. "My friends thought it was a good idea and they helped a lot."
But, Wettering said, the real gift in his eyes was not the flowers, but the time spent visiting with each and every resident.
"I wanted to wish them a Merry Christmas because they enjoy seeing kids," he explained, "and I enjoy seeing them smile."
So, on Christmas Eve, that is exactly what Wettering did, spending more than two hours to personally visit each and every resident, talking with them and handing out a carnation for Christmas. He said the reactions from the residents were mixed, but they were all good.
Wettering is the son of Sheryl and Malcolm Wettering who, along with Sharon Kirk, director of recreation therapy at Morningstar, went room to room with him to share in the thoughtful gesture.
"I am really proud of Malcolm and the person is becoming," his mom, Sheryl, said. "I was pleasantly surprised with his idea. He has always had a respect for our older generation and this assignment was a great way to "give back. This assignment was great for the kids, no matter what they decided to do. They had to stop and think and try to make a difference in another person's life and how it makes that person(s) feel and how it made themself feel. Sharon Kirk from Morning Star is a wonderful person and I would like to thank her for helping Malcolm make this happen."
Kirk said Wettering was asked by a few residents what he wanted for Christmas and he modestly replied, "just for people to be happy."
"The residents were elated that this young man would do this and many tears of joy were shed," Kirk added.
The residents, however, were not the only ones to receive a gift as a result of the assignment.
"I really enjoyed it," Wettering said. "It reminded me how precious life is and to enjoy every day."
Rachel's Challenge for middle school students
1. Look for the Best in Others
2. Treat Others the Way You Want to be Treated
3. Choose Positive Influences
4. Speak Words of Kindness
5. Forgive Yourself and Others
To learn more about Rachels's Challenge, go to http://www.rachelschallenge.org.