Olentangy Valley News

Acts of kindness abound thanks to trio of clubs

Schools' Friends of Rachel clubs inject positivity into hallways

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Travis Napper was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that affects his mobility. Doctors said he may never walk, and in school he was sometimes the victim of bullying.

Today, Napper walks. And as a senior at Olentangy Orange High School, he's determined to stamp out school bullying.

He's a member of his school's Friends of Rachel Club, a student group that works to promote a culture of positivity and kindness at school.

The club was inspired by Rachel's Challenge, a national nonprofit group named after Rachel Scott, one of the students killed during the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.

Napper and several other Orange High School students talked about their experiences in the school's club at a school board meeting Feb. 25.

"When I heard about Rachel's Challenge, I found that this was a place for people like me who were bullied previously," Napper said. "It's a place where there are friends waiting for you."

Currently, three Olentangy schools have Friends of Rachel clubs: Orange High School, Orange Middle School and Berkshire Middle School.

The three clubs currently are involved in a friendly competition. Each school has a chain of paper links that gets a new link every time a member completes, or sees a classmate complete, a "random act of kindness."

The clubs will count their links at the end of the year to see who has the longest chain.

Friends Aanchal Seth and Neha Bhatnagar said the project inspired them to befriend a girl they noticed was often alone at school.

"Rachel's Challenge helped me go talk to her and make her feel like she had a friend," Bhatnagar said.

Orange High School students shared other activities their club has completed.

Addie Tyler said she helped pass out candy canes with encouraging messages as students and staff entered the building during exam week. They repeated the effort on Valentine's Day, passing out heart-shaped lollipops.

"That way, every student and staff member who entered the building got a treat and a smile," Tyler said.

She added: "You never know how far a little kindness can go. You may just start a chain reaction."

The club also sells T-shirts that ask, "How did you make someone feel today?" Proceeds will fund future projects.

At Berkshire Middle School, 85 seventh-graders have made the Friends of Rachel Club their own. They meet twice a month during lunch periods to participate in group discussions and plan projects.

The Berkshire students also are working furiously to rack up "random acts of kindness." Other members are working with students who are new to the school to help make them feel welcome.

"When a new student comes in, they make sure they have a buddy at lunch, so that the new student knows there's someone who will show them the ropes and make them feel comfortable," said guidance counselor Dana Yochum.

At Orange Middle School, the club has been a hit with the school's sixth-graders, who have added 241 links to their paper chain this year.

Students meet twice a month after school.

Guidance counselor Nick D'Errico said the club is changing the culture of the school.

"It's definitely made an impact on our building," D'Errico said. "Kids are always talking about a random act of kindness they did, and they say it's because of Rachel."

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