Jump Rope for Heart has new meaning for Booth Hill family

For the last seven years, Erin Letizia and her children have signed up for Booth Hill School’s Jump Rope for Heart

event to have fun exercising while raising money for heart disease research and education. But this year’s event took on a whole different meaning for the family when Erin’s brother, Sean Kelly, 50, of Philadelphia, died of a heart attack on March 2.

“This year is special for us because just a month ago, we lost Sean,” said Erin, who coached her son’s team at the April 27 event at Trumbull High School. “Sean went to work that day, just like any other day, and had a heart attack in his office. He was only 50. He was a really special person who always took care of everyone else. It’s been a tough loss for us. So this year we’re jumping for Sean.”

Inspired to honor his Uncle Sean, her son, Nick, 10, tied for first place with third graders Rachel Winetraub and Garrett Chang and fifth grader Nathan Bowen as one of the students who raised the most money for the event this year. Their efforts helped Booth Hill come in first in the state for raising the most money for Jump Rope for Heart — the fifth time in the last five years.

That’s not all. The school is tentatively ranked fourth in the Top 100 Jump Rope for Heart Schools in the nation. Last year, Booth Hill placed fourth in the nationwide program, after Rochester, N.Y., Honolulu, Hawaii, and New Hope, Pa., with Jump Rope for Heart calling Booth Hill “one of the schools to beat.”

Since Booth Hill raised more money than last year, there’s a chance it can move up to second or third place in the nation this year. “That would be great,” said Booth Hill physical education teacher Ginny Girouard, who has organized the event at Booth Hill for the last 31 years. “But I’m thrilled with whatever the boys and girls do because their efforts come from their hearts, and that’s what really counts.” Booth Hill will find out its nationwide ranking in mid-June. Residents may continue to contribute to Jump Rope for Heart until June 15 by sending money to their respective elementary schools or by going online at heart.org/jump .

Trumbull Public Schools has raised so much money for the program over the years that its elementary health and physical education staff recently received a Recognition Award from the Connecticut Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, in part for its continued participation in Jump Rope for Heart.

Teachers were recognized for their efforts to promote health, physical exercise, and recreational activities — and for bringing the community together with Jump Rope for Heart, which teaches students about living a healthy lifestyle and taking part in community service. The teachers were presented with plaques that will be hung in their schools. Those honored include Girouard, Jennifer Gibson, Michael Bourque, Michael Cavallaro, Stephen Hackett, and Keith Strychalsky.

Booth Hill Principal Dana Pierce said he is proud of his students for taking time out of their busy schedules to do good for others. “What’s wonderful about this event is that it brings us all together,” he said, “teachers, students, their parents, siblings, grandparents, and cousins. This is what gives us our pulse. The kids bring so much energy to this event. And they learn early on that this is connected to a cause, which is the most important thing.”

Nick Letizia certainly took this year’s fund-raiser to heart. “I raised money for everyone who has heart problems or who has ever had a heart attack or stroke,” said Nick, whose team wore T-shirts dedicated to his uncle. “My Uncle Sean had a heart attack. I really loved him. He always made me laugh. He was such a good uncle. So I jumped for him this year.”