BP’s Leis up to the challenge

Published Nov 6, 2013 at 6:23 am (Updated Nov 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm)

Juliana Leis wanted to change people’s lives.

When the Bethel Park High School junior attended the National Conference last April with PRIDE of Bethel Park, her community’s anti-drug, alcohol and violence organization, she was exposed to a program titled Rachel’s Challenge.

Rachel’s Challenge encourages individuals to replace acts of violence, bullying and negativity with acts of respect, kindness and compassion by bringing anti-bullying speeches and programs to schools around the country. The program, which teaches children and teens how to make a positive impact on the world around them, was founded by Darrell and Sandy Scott, parents of Rachel Scott, the first teen killed in the 1999 Columbine massacre. Darrell and his wife were motivated to form Rachel’s Challenge after coming across drawings and diaries his daughter made shortly before her death. It was then that the couple realized how much their daughter wanted to help others and make big changes, but never had the chance.

Some of the things Rachel had written in her diary included, “I will not be labeled as average,” “Tomorrow is not a promise, but a chance” and “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

Just months after creating Rachel’s Challenge and visiting several schools, Darrell and Sandy received hundreds of emails, stating that Rachel “saved their lives” and that they would “step in when someone’s being bullied.” Millions of teens have now been exposed to the program.

Juliana Leis is one of those teens, and after seeing Rachel’s Challenge at the PRIDE National Conference, she felt compelled to make a difference.

“I wanted to become involved in bringing this program to schools, because I felt that it was something different and unique. I know how hard it is sometimes to get students to pay attention to something like this. I hoped the students might take to a different type of anti-bullying program, like Rachel’s Challenge,” Juliana said. “My goal in becoming involved with this project was to hopefully inspire the students to lead positive lives and be positive examples to others. I hope that they were inspired to continue Rachel’s idea of a chain reaction of kindness.”

While at the PRIDE National Conference in April, Juliana and fellow PRIDE member Jessa Hogue performed a public speaking piece they had written, entitled “They Lied,” about a mother (played by Jessa) who didn’t realize that her “good” daughter (played by Juliana) had gotten mixed up with kids who did drugs. After the girl was told by her new friends that she couldn’t get hooked on drugs the first time, an air bubble formed in her vein while shooting up and she died.

Juliana and Jessa won first place for their piece.

So, with the help of her PRIDE team and advisor, Juliana was able to host a Rachel’s Challenge Community Event in October at Independence Middle School in Bethel Park. “We really wanted a full house to experience Rachel’s Challenge. It is that life changing!” said Sue Leis, Juliana’s mother.

At the event, Juliana and Jessa, gave a speech about their purpose – to educate kids about bullying, suicide and that one person’s actions can impact someone’s life negatively or positively. “They Lied” was also performed at the IMS event with the help of fellow PRIDE member Ross Martin, who has been part of the group for the past five years.

Juliana then gave an introduction to Fred Lynch, an official speaker for Rachel’s Challenge. The event was closed by Jessa’s mom, a PRIDE advisor.

“I did think it was fun. It was an honor working with all the people from Rachel’s Challenge, and I think the middle school kids did take away something from the program, which is always a wonderful feeling,” Juliana said. “Some parts of coordinating the event were challenging, such as keeping the PRIDE advisors, the principals and the organization all on the same page. Also, still being a high school student, I’d never really seen an actual contract before, so that was an interesting experience!”

“It (BP PRIDE) is a great group,” said Sue Leis, who had the opportunity to attend PRIDE’s Summit meeting in July. “I really discovered how much of a difference these kids make and how much they value each other and each others ideas.”

However, after 21 years, PRIDE of Bethel Park is no more. “This summer we decided to disband since as a group we didn’t have many people,” explained Juliana. “The people we did have were also involved in many other school and community groups, so it would have been difficult to accomplish anything – we barely had enough people to run our fundraisers.

“I only had one year in PRIDE, but it is still upsetting to see such a great group with a positive message disband,” Juliana continued, adding that she has met many talented people through PRIDE that she will continue to talk to, people who have influenced her life in a positive way. “We aren’t just a bunch of ‘good’ kids who say no to drugs and alcohol; we’re a family that supports each other, encourages positive choices, and tries to encourage others to lead positive lives as well.”

Juliana added that she is looking to continue PRIDE in Bethel Park, or in the South Hills. “I think it would be a lot bigger of a community presence both in Bethel and the surrounding areas if kids from across the districts were a part of it.”

To learn more about PRIDE of Bethel Park, visit www.prideofbp.org. To learn more about Rachel’s Challenge, visit rachelschallenge.org.

Julianna Chen is a seventh-grader at Peters Township Middle School.

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