Originally published April 15, 2022 in the Odessa American.

Students at St. Ann’s School celebrated a record year of fundraising recently and marked the milestone by duct-taping their gym teacher, Donna Reker, to the wall of the gymnasium.

The school of about 420 students raised funds for the American Heart Association through Kids Heart Challenge, the in-school curriculum rooted in proven science which has shown that kids who are regularly active can help kids feel better, improve mental health, build self-esteem, decrease and prevent conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Studies have shown that physical activity can help with mental health, and the American Heart Association (AHA), the world’s leading nonprofit focused on heart and brain health for all, recognizes St. Ann’s School for making the students’ well-being a priority.

“Here at St. Ann’s, our mission is about growing in our Catholic faith,” Reker said. “Community service, such as fundraising for the AHA, is one way of carrying out that mission. The AHA and Kids Heart Challenge allow our students, teachers, and families to show our character in helping not only ourselves, but others – all while having a blast.”

St. Ann’s School has participated in Kids Heart Challenge for six years and went from raising $17,000 in its first year to more than $52,000 this year. The school raised $40,000 and $41,000 in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

The program is led by Reker with help from coach Brandy Ripley. Jack Reker (coach Reker’s grandson) has been St. Ann’s top fundraiser three years running and raised $1,500 this year, collecting money online and going door-to-door. Brother/sister Jag and Ava Gabarda raised $1,000 each this year.

A fellow student, fourth-grader Frankie Diaz, has a “special heart” and served as an inspiration to others. Frankie’s parents shared their son’s heart story with students using a video the parents made.

“I think our students learned from his video how important it is to help others and take care of their hearts,” Reker added.

Reker’s family has a history of heart disease and in some instances, it was fatal. Her husband is a stroke survivor. “I tell my students heart disease can effect anyone, but we can do our part by raising funds to help those in need,” she said.

Along with duct-taping coach Reker to the wall, students were rewarded with a “glow party” in the gym and coupons allowing students to have “out of uniform” days. “It’s a big deal for a school that requires students to wear uniforms,” Reker said.

Funds raised by Kids Heart Challenge participants support the American Heart Association’s scientific research and outreach programs, paving the way for technological breakthroughs to improve health outcomes while creating healthier communities. For the amount of funds the school raised, it will receive at least $5,000 back in the form of AHA give-backs and incentives to be used the physical education equipment for the school.

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