ROCK FALLS – Rhyanna Hadden is wrapping her loving hands around a small New England town shaken by tragedy.
The 15-year-old freshman at Rock Falls High School was so moved by the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December that she pledged to do something to help. She discussed it with Margo Jakobs, a counselor at the high school.
“It just hit me – tears,” Hadden said. “I told Margo, ‘We have to fix this. We have to do something for them.’ That could have been us in that shooting. Those could have been our lives.”
Jakobs first suggested Hadden raise money to send to the devastated town. But Hadden was compelled to do something more meaningful.
Jakobs then suggested Hadden raise money to plant memorial trees – one for each victim of the shooting. Hadden was sold; she remembered that her friend, Jade Garza, who was electrocuted while detasseling corn in Tampico in July 2011, has a tree near her grave.
“They’re growing,” she said of the trees. “They’re still here.”
“Trees are living memorials,” Jakobs added. “They represent life.”
Hadden doubted herself: How could she possibly persuade people to donate money with Christmas just days away and school out for 2 weeks?
But her friend, senior Lindsey Crow, convinced her that she should stick with it.
“I just wanted to help her,” Lindsey said. “I knew she could do it.”
“That was my click,” Hadden added.
Hadden kicked her fundraising into gear when school was back in session Jan. 7. She called her effort Hands of Care. She set a goal of $250. She and four friends – Crow, senior Katlyn Gray, sophomore Chelsi Blair and freshman Felicia Aldrich – put up posters, passed around collection jars, and spread the word throughout school.
Within a day, Hadden reached her goal.
Hadden upped the ante during a three-school presentation of Rachel’s Challenge, a program that empowers students to start what Columbine shooting victim Rachel Scott called “a chain reaction of kindness and compassion,” Jan. 9. She got up in front of her peers – all of Rock Falls High School, all of Newman Central Catholic High School, and the freshman class of Sterling High School – to propose a cross-town competition to raise money for the people of Newtown.
“She got up there in front of 1,200 kids and said, ‘We have to do it. We can’t count on someone else to do it,’” Jakobs said. “She just would not let it go.”
She and her friends raised $700 with a bake sale during basketball games last weekend. The school had a classroom competition for a pizza party. Newman High School had a dress-down day in which students paid $2 to wear jeans instead of their uniforms; the effort raised almost $350.
By Monday, donations reached about $1,500.
“We started counting the money [that had come in] and we were blown away,” Jakobs said.
“That was a cartwheel moment,” Hadden added.
Hadden has moved grown adults to tears with her effort.
“I am just in awe of her,” Jakobs said, choking up mid-sentence. “I just hope people realize the efforts of someone her age … and what a difference it makes.”
But Hadden remains humble about the whole thing.
“It really isn’t about me,” she said. “It’s about those kids.
“We can’t take life for granted,” she continued. “That could have been us. That could have been our town falling apart. Now, we have to build them up.”
Trees for Newtown
Rock Falls High School freshman Rhyanna Hadden has spearheaded an effort – Hands of Care – to raise money to plant memorial trees and place a headstone in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Donations may be mailed to:
Rock Falls High School
Attn: Hands of Care
101 12th Ave.
Rock Falls, IL 61071
Checks should be made out to "Rock Falls High School" and include "Hands of Care" in the memo line.
Call Margo Jakobs at 815-625-3886 for more information.