Ella Turner, 9, said she made her little sister laugh more than anybody else.
“Dad says he would hear giggles in the back seat and he always knew good things were going on,” Ella said.
Five years old at the time, Ella and her sister, Colby, 2, were always together having fun.
Colby had been diagnosed with geleophysic dysplasia, a strange-sounding name for such a little girl. Neil Turner, Ella and Colby’s dad, told her Colby had a sick heart because that was easier for her to understand. When Colby was 2 she died.
Losing a younger sister is hard for anyone, but especially hard for a 5-year-old. As the months passed Ella was busy doing all of the things a busy kindergartner does when she learned about Jump Rope for Heart and how it benefits the American Heart Association.
“At first when I heard about it (Jump Rope for Heart) I really was impressed with the prizes,” Ella said as she leaned in speaking quietly. “Then I saw what it was for and I got excited because it might help other children with the same kind of hearts my sister had.”
Ella’s dad said he was waiting for Ella and she came bounding out to the car grinning from ear to ear wanting to share what she had found out. She told him she wanted to raise $1,000. She said they were going to raise money for people with bad hearts.
In her first American Heart Association campaign as a kindergartner, Ella set a goal of $1,000.
“I had reached my first goal in 24 hours,” Ella said. “My parents put what I was doing on Facebook. I have a big family and they posted and reposted what I was doing and I reached my goal and just kept going.”
That first year, as a kindergartner, Ella raised more than $5,500 to help other children who, like Colby, had sick hearts. The next year in 2012 she raised more than $11,000 and out of all of the children who participate in Jump Rope for Heart, she ranked No. 2 in the nation.
On top of that she became a Heart Ambassador and participates in speaking engagements at schools and for organizations, has appeared in a promotional video and has helped kick off other American Heart Association events. Last year she raised more than $10,500.
She is featured in the February issue of Better Homes & Garden with an article highlighting her story and success.
This year’s campaign has just started and this Centennial third grader has already raised more than $2,300 in two days as she works toward her $9,000 goal.
“People kind of forget once they give and after a while the giving gets less,” Ella said. “I set my goal high because I want to raise money to help hearts. I hope people will post my story on their Facebook pages and then their friends will repost it so a lot of people will read about what I am doing and donate.”
Ella said her biggest donor is one of her sister’s doctors.
“Every year he donates $1,000,” Ella said. “It is kind of neat he donates money and I give it to the Heart Association and they give it to heart research and then he gets it back to help other people who have heart trouble. It goes in a circle.”
She said writing speeches is the hardest part of being a Heart Ambassador, but she is excited about going to a Heart Ball Feb. 22.
“I get to dress up in a dress and me and my dad are going to be talking. We are going to tell people that want to know more about our story.”
And telling people her sister’s story and helping raise money for hearts is who she is.
“It makes me feel good and happy that I am doing something for other people,” Ella said. “I do it in memory of my little sister.”
Ella and her parents, Neil and Usha, are expecting a baby brother Friday so Ella might have to slow down for a few days since she will be busy welcoming the new baby home.
After school Ella can be found jumping her rope for hearts or swimming at the new Mitch Park YMCA where she is a member of the Extreme Aquatic team.
“I plan on swimming on the high school team and when I go to college,” Ella said.
Until that happens you may see her jumping her rope and handing out her business card as she works to save hearts.
To make a donation go online to donate, Ella said. “That is really the easiest way to do it.”
FOR MORE information about the American Heart Association, visit www.heart.org. At www.EllaJumps.com, you can read about Ella’s past campaigns, more about her current one and find links to her donation and Facebook pages.