The Edmond Sun
Cox Communications awarded its first Community Impact grant of $50,000 to the Edmond Public Schools anti-bullying program on Wednesday.
The district will use the money to bring Rachel’s Challenge, a kindness and compassion outreach curriculum, to the district’s elementary schools.
This year Edmond School District, through a donation from a student’s parents, brought Rachel's Challenge to the district and presented it in all five of the middle schools and one elementary school.
Rachel’s Challenge is a series of student empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion.
The programs are based on the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first of 13 victims killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colo.
Rachel left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others or who were new at her school.
Shortly before her death 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. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Rachel had written in her journal, “I will not be average. Dream big and believe in yourself, be kind to others, show appreciation to those you love and be the answer.”
“Rachel’s Challenge will help us create a culture in our elementary schools that focuses on starting chain reactions of kindness,” said Lynne Rowley, director of elementary education. Each elementary school will receive the Rachel’s Challenge Kindness and Compassion Elementary Program Curriculum with lessons and outlined procedures for implementing a KC (Kindness and Compassion) Club. The club is made up of students who identify and plan ways children and adults can show kindness and compassion to members of the community.
“West Field Elementary implemented Rachel’s Challenge this year. Recently, students at West Field collected gloves, hats, scarves, toothpaste and deodorant to donate to homeless students attending Positive Tomorrows.”
Cara Jernigan, principal at West Field, said, “Through this club we hope to see students empowered, lives changed and attitudes transformed.”
Cox employees ‘get it’
The inaugural grant of $50,000 was given by the Cox Connects Foundation totally funded by employee donations and distributed by an advisory council composed of employees.
An additional $216,000 was given through Community Investment grants to non-profits including Edmond’s Hope Center and Edmond Mobile Meals, each receiving $5,000.
More than 80 percent of the 1,800 Cox employees opt in to donate to the foundation with each giving an average of $434 each year.
The foundation started seven years ago when technicians going into homes in the community saw the needs first hand and decided they wanted to do something to give back to the community.
“The foundation is a result of what they experienced,” said Tiffani Bruton, director of public affairs.
“The first year employees donated $100,000 to the fund to be given to local non-profits within Cox service areas,” Bruton said. “Employee donations have increased incrementally each year.”
In the past seven years more than $3.7 million has been given back to Oklahoma’s communities, added Cox General Manager Percy Kirk. Cox employees have pledged $643,617 for 2013.
“It is all about people pooling resources for other people in the community,” Kirk said. “Cox employees really get it.”
Kirk went on to say Oklahoma is different than some states because everyone seems to pull together working in a common direction.
More than 200 non-profits from across the state submitted proposals to be considered by Cox Connects Foundation employees.
Susan Parks-Schlepp, district public relations/community involvement director, wrote the grant which landed the Rachel’s Challenge proposal in the top three. Jason Brown, director of secondary education, and Sequoyah Middle School eighth-grader MeL Keller helped present the Rachel’s Challenge proposal to the Cox Connects Foundation Advisory Council.
“One of the council members came up to me after the grant presentation was made Wednesday and said a statement made by MeL during our presentation really stuck with the council members,” Parks-Schlepp said.
“MeL told Cox Connects Foundation advisory council members that following the Rachel’s Challenge presentation at her school, ‘Now it’s cool to be kind,’” Parks-Schlepp said.
“To have a lasting impact on students’ lives we realize that in addition to focusing on instruction, testing and academic advancement, we must also address their emotional and social well-being. We strongly believe that implementing the Rachel’s Challenge program district-wide will help us to achieve that goal,” Parks-Schlepp added.
“Edmond Public Schools is very grateful to the Cox Connects Foundation for its generosity in funding the Rachel’s Challenge project,” said superintendent David Goin. “This powerful presentation and follow-up attention with students will impact positively their development as caring, respectful individuals.”