PITTSFIELD, Maine — Meghan Cookson raised $60 in pledges for Thursday’s Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser, but she wasn’t satisfied. That’s why Cookson, a third-grader, decided to chip in $15 of her own money.
Cookson said her money comes from various sources and has taken “a long time” to collect.
“I think there are a lot of kids who need it more than I do,” said the bubbly, braces-wearing blonde. “I can help people get the heart surgery they need.”
In all, the third- and fourth-graders who filled the school’s gymnasium with spinning, slapping jump ropes Thursday afternoon raised $2,443. That brings the school’s donations to the American Heart Association since 2004 to more than $15,000.
Jump Rope for Heart events across the country are the American Heart Association’s biggest fundraiser, said Nici Carbone, the association’s youth marketing director for Maine. Most of that money is funneled to research organizations that are working on cures for various forms of heart disease.
“The American Heart Association wouldn’t be able to do nearly all that they do without Jump Rope for Heart,” said Carbone, who estimated that at least 200 Maine schools participate in the event annually. “We’re utterly thankful for the hard work that students and teachers do in this state.”
Though the fundraising is an important component, SAD 53 physical education teacher Sue Nile, who organizes the program at Vickery School, said it isn’t the only reason for holding the event. It’s part of a long-term lesson about heart health that she starts with the district’s pre-kindergarten students and carries through the fourth grade.
For 4-year-olds, those lessons might cover where the heart is in the body and why doctors use a stethoscope during checkups. In later grades students learn the signs of a heart attack or stroke. By fourth grade, Nile is teaching them about healthful snacks and the danger of smoking.
Asked whether her lessons are making a difference, Nile said she’s having enough of an impact to make the effort worthwhile.
“If just one person gains one piece of information, it’s all been worth it,” she said. “Maybe a parent will see this event and buy their child a jump rope.”
Another important part of the lesson, which shone through with abundance on Thursday, was that exercise doesn’t have to be work; it can be a lot of fun.
“It’s a personal choice we have to make every day,” said Carbone.
On Thursday, it was a choice made by all 72 participants. Involvement in Jump Rope for Heart is voluntary, said Vickery Principal Faye Anderson, beaming as she watched the jump-ropers from the sideline.
“The kids get so excited for this,” she said. “It’s a lesson they’ll carry with them throughout their schooling.”