May 20—Seventy students at St. Mary's Catholic Elementary School in Joplin poured their hearts into challenges by the American Heart Association in which they learned how to make healthy living choices while raising thousands of dollars for lifesaving research.
St. Mary's students in kindergarten through fifth grade collected $8,422.58 in a month for the Kids Heart Challenge. The check was presented to the American Heart Association on Wednesday at St. Mary's Catholic Church during a prize presentation. As part of the drive, participants joined the nonprofit's website to complete heart-healthy activities and collected donations from the community.
Melissa Rock, youth market director for the American Heart Association, said the heart challenges not only benefit the children's health but also build their emotional well-being and awareness. Challenges included drinking more water, being kind and staying active.
"One of my favorite things is the educational component because the students hear at a very young age the impact of the choices that they're making on their own health," she said. "It isn't just the impact it has on their physical heart muscle but also the impact on their social and emotional awareness as well. We talk a lot about being kind, being a leader and helping others, and all of those things combined add to our heart healthy components that we teach them."
Rock said that with the pandemic, this was one of those years that they weren't sure about having the Kids Heart Challenge. But the students ended up raising more money than last year.
Participants who raised more than $250 each received a Kansas City Chiefs football and cloth face mask. Top earning students, brothers Max and Jett Finley, also took home gold medals for collecting more than $748 each.
"We did challenges like jump-roping and obstacle courses," said Max Finley, 10, a fourth grader at St. Mary's. "It was very fun, and we participate every year. Our 1-year-old cousin, Rocko, has a hole in his heart, and I was donating money for him as well as babies and kids with heart problems."
This year marked the seventh year for St. Mary's to participate in the challenge month, and in total, more than $50,000 has been donated.
Margie Black, Spanish and PE teacher for St. Mary's, said it's expected for a school of its size to raise $1,200 to $1,500, but the school has hit it out of the park every time. In its best year, the school donated more than $9,000.
"The American Heart Association has streamlined the process," Black said. "It's not going door to door. It's letting them know what we're doing and what we're trying to encourage kids to do. There's also texting and emailing.The kids were able to set up their own page, so if they had a relative who passed away from a heart attack or had heart disease, it helped bring that message home. A majority of our donations, about two-thirds, were made online."
Black said a lot of people have a personal connection to the cause because everyone knows someone who has been affected by heart issues, including herself. Jack Tettamble, Black's older brother, died of a heart attack shortly before his 50th birthday.
About 655,000 Americans die of heart disease annually, which is about 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"When you have a piece of your own heart involved in it, a personal stake, it's a lot easier to reach in your pocket and make a donation," Black said. "I always tell the kids that my first rule is that we're going to have fun. I don't want them to focus on the money because that's not what it's about. The important thing is that the kids have fun while learning how to take care of themselves."