Every February, Steve Farley gets out his box of jump ropes and rallies St. Norbert Catholic School students to raise money for a good cause. He promises contests and prizes and sends the kids home with a fundraising packet and boundless enthusiasm for the American Heart Association’s jump rope challenge.
But this year was different. Sensitive to the pandemic and those who may be struggling, Steve’s only goal was to focus on heart health and the importance of physical fitness. If money was raised, great. And if not, he figured there’s always next year.
After students jump roped over the course of two weeks, Steve tallied the results.
“I was shocked,” Steve admits.
For the first time in 15 years of participating, the Orange school not only met its longstanding goal of $10,000, but surpassed it and raised $13,401.
Steve was a stay-at-home dad when an unauthorized truck purchase led to his wife’s ultimatum: Get a job to pay for the car or return it. St. Norbert needed a P.E. teacher and Steve needed a way to get back into good graces with his wife. With no experience in the physical education field, he sought ways to engage the students—including his two daughters, who were attending the school at the time.
Kids Heart Challenge, formerly known as Jump Rope for Heart, was his answer.
The challenge, conducted at U.S. elementary schools throughout the year, has raised billions of dollars since it was initiated 43 years ago. Proceeds primarily fund new research and public health education related to heart disease.
This year, St. Norbert ranked in the top two Catholic schools for donations and top 10 among all 130 participating Orange County schools, raising a lifetime amount of $80,304.
“With only 300 students, as a small private school, raising $13,000 is remarkable,” says Audra Milliken, American Heart Association’s Orange County youth market director. “It takes an amazing and passionate KHC volunteer/leader, Mr. Farley, and a whole school of heartfelt and generous students and families to raise that much.”
During the challenge at St. Norbert, Steve blasts music on the blacktop while the kids compete against each other—single rope, long rope, Double Dutch.
“We just have fun,” says Steve, whose uncle suffered a fatal heart attack several years ago. “We talk about the heart that beats night and day and that we have to take care of it. We also talk about balancing a healthy diet.”
While all of the students jump rope, this year about half of the school participated in the fundraising. Three brought in about $500 each, while pre-K student Eastyn Magana-Oneal raised the most at $1,042.
“We were inspired to raise money for the American Heart Association in support of Eastyn’s great grandmother and all the others affected by heart disease,” says mom Catrina Magana. “We wanted to do what we could to support in any way we can.”
Seventh-grader Jack Gogan, another top fundraiser, was motivated by his P.E. teacher.
“Jack loves Mr. Farley, he talks about him all of the time,” says Jack’s dad, Matt Gogan. “Mr. Farley teaches the kids to challenge themselves and we appreciate what he’s done for our son. We’ve also had two family members pass away from heart disease, so raising awareness about the disease and health in general is a wonderful thing.”
This year, Steve doubled his personal best after he, too, reached out to friends and family.
“It means most to me now,” says Steve, whose donations totaled $2,600. “I try to teach the kids we can help families and doctors with their research. It makes me feel proud teaching these kids about compassion for others.”