RISD kindergartner tops in state Jump Rope for Heart donations

By Sheri Fowler, RISD Communications Director. When Ella Turner’s dad was composing her American Heart Association “Jump Rope for Heart” donation webpage, he started with a very simple statement: “Ella wants to help kids with sick hearts.”

That desire has led Ella, a six-year-old student at Rockwall’s Nebbie Williams Elementary, to become the number one “Jump Rope for Heart” fund raiser in the state of Texas and currently number two in the nation.

Although Ella’s desire was simple, the facts behind it are far more complicated—and heartbreaking.

Ella’s younger sister, Colby—a toddler with fiery red curls and an infectious smile—passed away from a complex medical condition called Geleophysic Dysplasia.

Although the disease encompasses a broad array of medical issues, Ella’s basic understanding was that Colby had a sick heart.  So when students at Nebbie Williams were told about the annual American Heart Association Jump Rope for Heart event, Ella came home with a big heart and an even bigger idea.

Neil Turner, Ella’s father, remembers Ella’s enthusiasm.

“Daddy, we are going to raise money for people with bad hearts and I want to raise a $1,000 at least…probably more,” said Ella. “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 six years old like me that it helps.”

Although Mr. Turner was initially cautious about encouraging his daughter’s lofty goal, her enthusiasm and her motivation soon put his concerns to rest.

“You don’t understand,” said Ella. “They help kids with bad hearts. They help kids like Colby.”

In that moment, Ella’s dad understood completely.

“It all became very clear very quickly,” said Mr. Turner.  “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.”

The Jump Rope for Heart event involves students actively seeking donations for the American Heart Association, and Ella began in earnest.  Through personal contacts and an AHA donation webpage, she easily met her $1,000 goal and to date has collected $4,406.

On Friday afternoon, Feb. 11, Ella entered the Nebbie gym carrying a photo of her sister.  She took her place with the other kindergarten students who would take turns jumping rope in support of the AHA.

“The kindergarten students were divided into teams of about four and each team took turns sending out someone to the floor of the gym to jump rope,” said Nebbie Principal Karen Aikman.

“They had also been previously taught how to lay down the rope and jump back and forth over it for those who aren’t quite proficient at jumping rope.  Each child got a chance to jump for awhile to fun music.”

In the middle of the class, the jumping stopped and Ella was brought to the front to be acknowledged for her hard work.  On hand to present Ella with a certificate acknowledging her effort were AHA representatives Tonya Bradford, a youth market director, and Susan Elizondo, the Dallas vice president for the youth market. Ella’s parents and numerous teachers and administrators were also present.

“My favorite aspect of the entire thing is that Ella is such a great big sister and this gave her an opportunity to really show it,” said Mr. Turner.

“She doesn’t know the kids she is helping, but she has a lot of insight to what they are going through. She has seen these types of struggles from the perspective that no child should have to, but rather than just be sad and mad about it, she has used it as inspiration to help others. It’s been a joy to watch.”

Ella’s principal agrees.

“I am so inspired by Ella’s kindness and desire to help other people in memory of her sister, Colby,” said Mrs. Aikman.  “She set a very large goal of $1000 and has more than exceeded that goal!  Ella shows us all that with a little compassion and kindness, we can each make a difference and help others.  Ella has the biggest heart a kindergartner can have!”

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