Cambridge Intermediate School fifth grader A.J. Lawrence jumps rope with his entire body. He jumps high and bends his knees so his feet nearly touch his backside and swings his arms in circles to move the rope around his body. He gives it his all – a complete effort.
It is the same approach Lawrence used when participating in the American Heart Association’s annual Jump Rope for the Heart event. He made a big effort and raised more than $5,000 in donations during his elementary school years including $1,300 when he was in Kindergarten. And he did it all to honor his grandfather.
Lawrence’s grandfather died of a heart attack in 1991, well before A.J. was born. But he learned from his mother about his grandfather.
“When this all started for me, my mom actually told me how he died,” A.J. said about when he started participating in the fundraising activity. “That motivated me to help others and make sure they don’t have to go through what I had to go through, and not meet my Grandpa.”
A.J.’s mother, Denise Lawrence, used the fundraising opportunity to explain to the young boy how his grandfather died.
“A.J. is named after his grandfather, Anthony Sapienza,” Denise said. “The first time he did this in Kindergarten, we were able to tell him about his grandfather. I have a good friend who works for the Heart Association, and she was able to share information with him as well.”
Lawrence reached out mainly to family members and his parents’ friends who were generous in their donations.
“I wanted to raise as much money as I could,” Lawrence said. “If I raised a lot, I could send more to the Heart Association and more money can help more people.”
Jump Rope for Heart recently was updated to the Kids Heart Challenge by the American Heart Association. The AHA website says the Kids Heart Challenge is a fun and exciting event where students learn about their heart while helping others by raising money for the American Heart Association. It prepares children for success through physical and emotional well-being.
“We have been participating in this activity for years,” Cambridge Intermediate School Physical Education teacher Sheryl Taylor said. “Although it did not take place this year due to the pandemic, I thought it was important to recognize A.J. because of the phenomenal effort he made in previous years.
“Some students work at it and maybe earn a t-shirt for raising $50, but A.J. worked really hard to raise a lot of money,” Taylor continued.
Lawrence went well beyond the t-shirt reward level so he could honor his grandfather.
While he did go door-to-door to get some donations, he took advantage of technology to reach a lot of people.
“I made videos to tell people about my grandfather and what happened to him,” Lawrence said about short videos he shared with several family members. “A lot of people sent donations to support the Heart Association.”
In one video, he tells people he is going to be jumping for his Grandpa Tony and asks them to please send money. Lawrence followed up by sending thank you videos and hand-written thank you notes to people who donated.
“I just wanted help kids and people,” Lawrence said. “Helping others always comes back to you. Helping others is always great.”
And helping others did come back to benefit AJ, although he had to be reminded of his invite to a Cleveland Cavaliers game.
“Oh yeah. One year I got four tickets to a Cavs game and I got to go down and meet the coach of the Cavs,” Lawrence said. “I saw LeBron and got to shake his hand. It was pretty cool all because I helped others.”
But like the Cavs game that was an afterthought to the importance of raising money for a good cause, so too were all the other prizes he earned along the way.
“I think he gave most of the prizes away,” his mother said. “He would give them to his friends if they wanted them. That wasn’t what was important to him.”
Along the way, A.J. also learned a little about the benefits of health and fitness. And a lot about caring.
“It is important to learn that you can raise money for a good cause and that you can help support a cause you care about,” Denise said about the experience. “I am proud of him.”
So is the Cambridge School District and the community.