MILWAUKEE, WI, Nov. 8, 2023 – The 2023-24 American Heart Association Kids Heart Challenge is off and running at schools throughout the state – but if your school hasn’t yet signed up, there’s still time.
Kids Heart Challenge is a school-based program designed to support long-term mental and physical health among students, while also raising funds to support the life-saving mission of the American Heart Association, a global force for healthier lives for all.
The program offers a variety of physical activities to get elementary students’ hearts pumping such as dance, basketball or jumping rope, paired with Finn’s Mission, an online component where students can earn digital badges for learning life-saving skills like Hands-Only CPR and how to spot a stroke, ways to combat stress and ideas for healthy eating.
Kids Heart Challenge has nearly 50 years of proven success rooted in scientific research that shows that kids who are regularly active feel better, have improved mental health, build self-esteem and decrease and prevent conditions such as anxiety and depression.
The program has been vital for two Elkhorn children, Braelyn Fletcher and Finley Moore, who both were selected this year as Youth Heart Ambassadors.
Fletcher, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome – in laymen’s terms, with half a heart. She underwent three different open-heart surgeries before she was three years old.
Braelyn first became involved with the Kids Heart Challenge in kindergarten, and continued in the program through fifth grade – she credited her gym teacher, Chris Behrens, with sparking her interest in helping others.
“(He) really took me under his wing my kindergarten year and wanted to show the rest of the school who we were raising money for,” she said. “It made me feel a little like a celebrity in the school, and I was happy that kids could see that I was just a normal kid, even though I had a special heart.”
Another Elkhorn youngster, Finley Moore, a first-grade student at Jackson Elementary School, has had her life positively affected by the program, her mother, Rita said.
“The American Heart Association has been so wonderful to our family and Finley,” Rita Moore said. “Just a few months after her surgery, her older brother, Renly, was able to participate in the ‘Kids Heart Challenge’ and feel excitement about heart health and ‘heart things’ weren’t all scary and terrible.”
Just three days into her young life, Finley was diagnosed with heterotaxy, which meant that most of her internal organs were located on the opposite side of her body. Two months later, she had a nine-hour open-heart surgery to repair those defects.
Association unveils ‘Heart Heroes’
Earlier this year, the American Heart Association unveiled its eight “Heart Heroes,” fictional characters meant to encourage students to get active and learn more about how to impact their health, as well as that of their families and communities.
Each hero represents a positive trait that aligns with the school-based initiative aimed at improving students’ health, while raising life-saving donations for the Association. This year’s “Heart Heroes” are:
- Buster, who loves to cheer on and celebrate others. Buster is the one throwing a party to celebrate all the kids and grown-ups who are pitching in to raise funds to help kids with special hearts as part of Kids Heart Challenge.
- Skip, who knows that, when it comes to vaping and tobacco, the best choice is just to “Skip” it.
- Bolt, who knows being active is a real boost to mood, muscle strength and brain power.
- Beat, who encourages everyone to learn Hands-Only CPR, because calling 911 and performing CPR could save a life.
- Star, who knows a good night’s sleep not only helps you feel good, it also keeps your heart and brain healthy.
- Splash, who loves creating fun and healthy things to eat and drink to support a strong and healthy heart.
- Tru, who began a Kids Heart Challenge Kindness Club that looks for acts of service they can do to help others.
- Spark, who loves science, technology, engineering and math.
The educational curriculum and physical activities included in the Kids Heart Challenge program help meet the needs of today’s youth and educators. The program, a successful part of thousands of schools from coast-to-coast, targets improving whole-body wellness, which is vital to drive immediate and long-term health in children.
With deep roots in physical activity, the program has expanded through the years to additionally support student mental health through social emotional learning.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 20% of kids get enough activity to meet physical activity recommendations. In addition to improved physical health, the benefits of physical activity for children include better grades, school attendance and classroom behavior.
“Our Youth Market staff is so excited to get this year’s Kids Heart Challenge off and running,” said American Heart Association Senior Development Director Lisa Schweitzer. “We’re pleased to have so many schools already onboard, but we always have room for more to join the fun!
“It takes all of us to create a healthy community where everyone has a chance to live a long and healthy life. We are so proud that so many schools have already stepped up to not only find new ways to keep their own hearts as healthy as possible, but for helping others to do the same.”
To learn more about the Kids Heart Challenge or to enroll your school to participate, visit www.heart.org/getstarted or contact Schweitzer via email at Lisa.M.Schweitzer@heart.org or by cell phone at 1-414-731-8686.
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, X or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.