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CMS preparing to answer ‘Rachel’s Challenge’
“I won’t be labeled as average.” -- Rachel Scott

Rachel Joy Scott was a high school junior who, in her own polite way, seemed to be on a mission.

She was a middle child – the third of five – of Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo. Her father was a former Lutheran minister in Lakewood, Colo. before he and Beth divorced, after which he became a sales manager.

Beth and the children moved to Littleton, Colo. and remarried, although she and Darrell maintained joint custody of the children.

Rachel had an interest in the arts and was an actress and aspiring writer, having played the lead in a student-written play her junior year. Away from school, she was a youth leader at Orchard Road Christian Center Church.

She also kept several diaries, many dealing with her faith in God and how she planned to change the world for the better, if only through small acts of kindness.

In an essay for school, Rachel 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.”

April 20, 1999 began like any other school day for Rachel at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colo., just west of Littleton.

She was having lunch with a friend, Richard Castaldo, outside the school library when two Columbine seniors, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, walked to where Rachel and her friend were sitting.

Rachel was initially shot in the leg, according to reports, when one of the gunmen picked her up by the hair and asked if she still believed in God.
“You know I do” was the reply, before she was shot in the head at point-blank range.

Rachel was the first of 12 students, along with a teacher and the two shooters, who died at Columbine that day in 1999, one of the deadliest high school shootings in U.S. history.

After the massacre, Columbine completely demolished its library, located above the cafeteria, since it was the site where most of the deaths took place. The site was then turned into a memorial ceiling and atrium; a new, larger library was built on the hill where the shooting began and dedicated to the memory of the victims.

Rachel’s story became the basis for five books and a nationwide outreach program, Rachel’s Challenge, designed to prevent teen violence. Program speakers include Rachel’s father and two brothers, while her mother have also authored books and is spokesperson for Rachel Joy Scott Ministries, which preserves her legacy.

Rachel’s parents, in the book Rachel’s Tears: the Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott, claimed that their daughter was targeted by the killers and died as a martyr for her Christian faith.

Her funeral on April 24 was attended by more than 2,000 people and drew a larger viewing audience for CNN than the funeral for Princess Diana.

Rachel was posthumously awarded the 2001 National Kindness Award for Student of the Year by the Acts of Kindness Association. In 2006, the National Education Association of New York awarded Darrell Scott and Rachel’s Challenge the Friend of Education Award.

Crossett Middle School has decided to answer Rachel’s Challenge, in order to make the school – and the community – a better place.

CMS principal Lou Gregorio said implementing Rachel’s Challenge is taking a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.

“I believe it impacts our students in teaching them kindness to others and preventing bullying,” he said. “Bullying is an issue at all schools and we’re trying to be proactive about it.”

Gregorio said two assemblies during the school day Thursday will offer a presentation about Rachel’s Challenge and activities for students.

A leadership team, comprised of students in each grade, will meet that afternoon, he said, and a program for the public will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the CMS cafeteria.

“We’d like to make this something that the whole community can get involved in,” Gregorio said.

The principal said he has seen Rachel’s Challenge in action at other schools, adding that he took a group of staff members to a state conference earlier this year where a presentation of the program took place.

Gregorio added that, several years ago, he met administrators and a counselor from Columbine at a conference, where they discussed measures that had been taken at Columbine after the incident.

He said he’d like Crossett to be another community that will take Rachel’s Challenge, and make the schools and the community a better one for all its residents.

“Her dream is what she wrote out before she died,” Gregorio said. “And her dream has come true – it has come true all over the country and we want to see it come true here.”

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.” – Rachel Scott

RDA program helps woman build new home
Louise Couser took a look at her new completed home Monday afternoon. Pictured, from left, are contractor Tommy Bailey, Couser and USDA Rural Development area specialist LouAnne Richardson. (Tom White/News Observer)
Louise Couser is about to enjoy the benefits of living in a new home – for the first time in almost 40 years.

The North Carolina Street resident will be able to move into her new residence soon, accomplished through a loan program offered by the USDA’s Rural Development Authority.

RDA area specialist LouAnne Richardson said the 502 loan program is available to residents of all ages, adding that Department of Housing and Urban Development income guidelines apply.

“The payments are based on income,” Richardson said. “Mrs. Couser had applied to get a loan to repair her home but we had some contractors look at it and they said it was basically about to fall in.

“Under the income and credit guidelines we have, she was able to qualify for a small home and I’m very happy we were able to help her get it.”

Richardson said the program allows residents the opportunity to secure a loan for the construction of a new home or to purchase and set up a new mobile home.

“We make loans to people who probably wouldn’t be able to get them otherwise,” she said. “The majority of our loans go to first-time home buyers.”

Richardson added “we’re one of the few left who can finance a home loan and the closing costs.”

She said the RDA also offers a 504 loan and grant program for existing homes to finance repairs, “to remove health and safety hazards,” although she added that “the loan program offers a bit more leeway for cosmetic things. We do a lot of 504 loans and grants.”

Richardson said a meeting for residents to learn more about the programs will be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Crossett Public Library.

Richardson said Couser’s new home was the first for the program in the Crossett area in at least six years, “but we’re hoping we can do a lot more.”

Tommy Bailey of Mystic Creek Construction in El Dorado, was the contractor for the Couser home, and was busy sweeping the carport Monday afternoon before her arrival.

“She’s a really great lady,” he said. “I’m happy all this worked out and we were able to build this place for her.”

Couser said she has lived on that lot since 1947, adding that a fire in the early 1960s destroyed the initial residence on the site.

(Full story in the Ashley News Observer)

A quiet read

Crossett man practices unique martial arts
Jason Sasser demonstrates the martial arts technique he practices.
After a doctor falsely promised his family he would finally walk, Jason Sasser found relief from his emotional pain through karate.

Sasser was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, confining him to a wheelchair all his life. He had surgery in 1985 on both legs and spent six weeks in casts. During his confinement, he watched Miss Michigan demonstrate the first karate demonstration ever seen at the Miss America Pageant. This inspired him to research his options for learning karate.

“(Miss Michigan) broke four bricks with her bare foot,” Sasser said. “It made me wonder, ‘how does the human body move like that?’”

Sasser started researching karate programs in the state and surrounding areas with little luck. He said every time he contacted a karate instructor, they “froze up” after he explained his condition. He even endured verbal abuse after one inquiry.

“One instructor even said I would be a disgrace to martial arts and I shouldn’t participate since I am in a wheelchair,” Sasser said. “I never let it discourage me; I just kept trying and trying to find someone willing to help.”

Sasser never let his disability interfere in other aspects of his life. He said he was the first disabled student to graduate from Crossett High School as a mainstream student, not taking any special education classes. He went on to finish a degree in Radio/T.V./Film at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He said he attended other universities but never found one as “disabled friendly” as UALR.

His inspiration to major in Radio/T.V./Film came from watching Walter Cronkite report the news.

“It’s something I always wanted to do since I was 5 years-old,” Sasser said. “I used to do pretend newscasts and radio shows when I was little.”

After over 20 years of research, Sasser found karate instructor Donna Judge’s Web site in February of 2007 and contacted her to explain his situation. Judge said that, at first, she had doubts about Sasser’s intentions.

“I made some calls to check him out and then asked him to send an audio tape explaining his desire to learn martial arts,” Judge said. “After that, I knew he was someone I wanted to work with.”

Sasser did not have to wait long before he heard back from Judge. He was watching a baseball tournament in town when he received a phone call from Judge, asking if she could visit him that next Sunday.

Judge traveled over 800 miles from her offices in Florida. After so many years of wanting to learn karate, Sasser said he was very emotional when she pulled into his driveway.

“I can’t tell you the emotional release I felt,” Sasser said. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

After the initial meeting, Judge said she saw a lot she could work with in Sasser and started sending him videotaped lessons. Judge knew she had to experience confinement like he did, so she started teaching the lessons in a wheelchair.

(Full story in the Ashley News Observer)

Retired forester recounts history
In a nearly full July 2 Crossett Rotary Club meeting, a retired forester and longtime Georgia-Pacific employee delved into Crossett’s forestry history.

O.H. “Doogie” Darling, who holds a bachelor’s from Louisiana State University and a master’s in forestry from Yale University, explained to Rotarians the area’s lumber history.

While Darling focused on Crossett, he explained that its history wasn’t unique and could apply to most any southern lumber town.

The focus of Darling’s presentation centered around the transport of logs and the problems with hardwoods that were experienced after land was cleared and prevented pine trees from growing.

Darling explained, not surprisingly, that railroads were used to transport the lumber to the mill, however the sheer number of railroad tracks built in the Crossett area to transport the lumber may be surprising.

“I told people when I moved to Crossett they had four railroads and they all ended here,” Darling said.

Those rail companies included the Missouri Pacific Railway, along with a number of regional railways and a system of spurs the company used to transport timber from the camps to the mill.

(Full story, photo in the Ashley News Observer)

© Copyright 2005 Ashley County Publishing, Inc.