Connellsville Area students 1st to hop aboard fundraiser

Mary Pickels
| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 1:41 p.m.

Julianna Lott was only 2 12 years old when she first became a big sister.

She still remembers her excitement over baby brother Kellen's arrival in 2006, said her mother, Jennifer Keller-Lott.

Kellen was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and lived for only one week.

Julianna, now 9 and a third-grade student at Bullskin Township Elementary School, honors her brother's memory by participating in the American Heart Association fundraiser Jump Rope for Heart.

“We did the Heart Walk one year, then she started jumping rope. She is very proud to get to do this for him,” Keller-Lott said.

The first year Julianna raised $1,350.

Her family promotes the fundraiser through Facebook posts and fliers at Connellsville's Highlands Hospital, where her father, Jaron Lott, is employed.

Julianna also has a 3-year-old, brother, Keegan.

Julianna, whose fundraising efforts earned her the title of Heart Hero, will again jump during her school's Jump Rope for Heart event.

As part of a pilot program, the American Heart Association is partnering with a school district in an effort to both raise funds and educate the students and community.

“Connellsville Area School District is the first to jump on board,” said Kelly Wilding, heart association youth market director.

The goal is a communitywide focus on heart healthy wellness activities, with teacher resource guides and an emphasis on the aspect of fun that exercise can provide.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heart association statistics show nearly one in three American children and teens are overweight or obese.

“That is one of the core reasons to focus on a districtwide initiative,” Wilding said.

Related health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes, can result.

“This is the first generation (projected) to have a shorter life expectancy than the one before,” Wilding said.

Physical activity can help to reverse that trend, the association states.

Last year's school events sponsored in the Connellsville community generated $24,402.

This year's fund-raising goal is $25,000, Wilding said.

“Connellsville Area School District has raised over $200,000 in the last 10 years,” Wilding said.

“Our faculty is terrific when it comes to raising money for worthy causes. They get the kids involved, educate them about the cause,” said district superintendent Dr. Daniel Lujetic.

Noting his own family and friends' families have experienced heart disease, Lujetic said heart health education is an issue the district wants to address with students.

New this year is participation in Friday's National Wear Red Day.

Faculty and staff purchased red shirts with the “Rock the Beat” logo. Through Wednesday, sales of the $10 T-shirts had raised $1,800, Wilding said.

Students also are encouraged to don red on Friday.

At Connellsville Township Elementary on Thursday, the Mountain View Wildcats Jump Rope Team performed numerous jump rope exercises to promote healthy lifestyles. The program, held in partnership with the American Heart Association and Latrobe School District, was led by coach Sharon Argenta, with Mt. View Elementary.

Over the next few months, CASD students will be provided with informational material explaining how the heart works, the importance of proper nutrition, and easy ways to incorporate physical activity into every day.

Elementary students will once again raise money through Jump Rope for Heart events at their individual schools.

“Hoops For Heart” sport events will allow secondary students to earn prizes through collecting fund-raising pledges.

Depending on how much money is raised, districts can earn gift certificates redeemable for physical education equipment through the heart association's partnership with US Games, Wilding said.

Visitors to the district's website,, can view heart healthy recipes, educational information and make donations.

Students — and the public — can learn how to perform Hands-Only CPR at the website

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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