How it All Began

Ella's work with Jump Rope for Heart began in 2011, when she was a kindergartner. This is the story that launched her campaign and her passion for helping kids with sick hearts.


Take a few minutes to read this story and we think you will be inspired.


Mending Hearts & Sails


We’ve all heard the expression about taking the wind out of someone’s sails. Tuesday afternoon, I saw the most vivid illustration of this saying I have ever witnessed. Unfortunately, I was the guilty party and worse, it was my own daughter’s sails.


School was letting out and Ella bounded out the doors with a huge smile and arms spread wide. Her jacket did flap behind her like sails as ran to me. 


“Daddy, we are going to raise money for people with bad hearts and I want to raise a $1,000 at least. Probably more! They are going to send home information on Thursday and we watched a video and it helps people with bad hearts. They showed some kids that were 6 years old like me that it helps. And there are jump ropes and the gym teacher...” What her words lacked in details and organization, she was making up with speed and enthusiasm.


The words I fixated on were the “more than $1,000” portion and that is what I chose to interrupt her with. 


“Darling, a thousand dollars is a lot of money. Trying to raise more than a thousand will be very hard.”


“Well. At least a thousand dollars then”, she replied.


“I don’t think you understand how much money that is.” At this point we had stopped on the sidewalk, no longer making progress to the car.


“No. You don’t understand.” She said it firmly, but not disrespectfully. Her voice had a tone of one part frustration and two parts determination. “They help kids with bad hearts. They help kids like Colby.”


It all became very clear, very quickly. For Ella, this wasn’t just another school activity to be excited about. This was personal. This was about her sister. This was a chance for her to be actively involved in making a difference in another child’s life - a child that was facing some difficult challenges, like her little sister did.



Now, I need to clarify something here. Colby’s condition went far beyond heart problems. It’s hard enough to explain Geleophysic Dysplasia to medical professionals and even harder to other adults. Explaining it to a six year old seemed riskier than the potential benefits, so for now we’ve kept the explanation simplified for Ella, so her basic understanding is that Colby’s heart was very sick. That is true, but obviously there is much more to it all, but we are saving those conversations for another day and this was not the day.


Understanding her better, I tried to explain the situation better to her. I told her how good it was that she wanted to help other kids and let her know that we would help raise some money. But I again tried to point out how much money $1,000 is and that we shouldn’t set such a high goal. Part of it was out of protecting her from disappointment and part of was protecting myself from getting wrapped up in asking people for donations. I told her we would look at the information on Thursday and talk about it more then.


She didn’t protest anymore, but you could see her mind at work trying to make sense of what I was saying and why I was saying it, but also trying to figure out just what it was that she could do. Our walk to the car resumed, but her smile was gone, as was the bounce in her step and the flap of her jacket. Gone was the wind in her sails.


That night, I thought a lot about that exchange. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt about what I had done. I had robbed her of the joy she was feeling about trying to help people and robbed her of the chance to dream big. The idea of protecting her from failure lost merit the more I thought about it and even if it hadn’t, if it was at the expense of her ambition and joy, the price was too high. How many times had I told her she could accomplish big things if she worked hard? I realized I didn’t want to make those words hollow.


The next morning on the way to school, I apologized to her. I told her I had made a mistake and that I was sorry. We spent some more time talking about what a big goal raising a $1,000 is, but that if she wanted to try, I would support her however I could. We also talked about what it means to do our best and that if she fell short of her goal, she had nothing to be ashamed of if she had done her best. Whatever amount she raised, she would be helping kids with sick hearts.


Her smiles and nods let me know that she understood. She wasn’t worried about falling short. All she wanted was the chance to try.


I know you all get bombarded with an endless stream of fundraising requests and there is no way to participate in them all. Many of you give generously of your money and time to many organizations and there should be no guilt felt if you decide not to give to this one. But if you support the efforts of the American Heart Association and are in a position to make a contribution, I hope you will consider donating to Ella’s fundraising effort.