GREEN BROOK, NJ – February is American Heart Month and on Feb. 19 Irene E. Feldkirchner (IEF) Elementary School in Green Brook held its annual Hoops for Heart fundraiser. The event, which is a national education and fundraising event sponsored jointly by the American Heart Association and the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE), is designed to promotes physical activity, heart healthy living, and community service.

Organized and run by IEF’s physical education teachers Nicole Cruts and Chris Billman, Hoops for Heart provided elementary students, along with eighth graders from Green Brook Middle School (GBMS), the opportunity to have fun, play basketball and learn about heart health while also raising money for the American Heart Association.

Throughout the morning, students in second, third and fourth grade played alongside members of GBMS’s boy’s and girl’s basketball teams and, in the afternoon, IEF’s fourth graders took to the courts to assist their fellow students in kindergarten and first grade; the fourth graders were selected by Coaches Cruts and Billman and their respective classroom teachers based on their peer mentoring and leadership skills as well as their knowledge of basketball.

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“Events like this bring the school together. They are competitive but, at the same time, the students are all having fun and supporting a great cause,” said Billman, who has been with the Green Brook School District for nine years, adding, It’s great to see the fourth graders step up and the eighth graders, many who I taught, come back.”

Cruts, who is currently in her second year at IEF, added, “Events like this raise kids’ awareness of what is going on outside of IEF. We talk about why were are dong it during our PE classes and they learn that there are people who need stronger, better hearts.”

Students in each grade had the opportunity to take part in a 45-minute session that included five-minutes at each of six basketball-themed stations: Dribbling Relay, Around the World, Hot Spots, Seven Up, March Madness and Shooting Bonanza. Both the eighth graders and the fourth graders explained to the younger students how each game needed to be played and cheered on the participants, offering such words of encouragement as ‘great job!” ‘way to go’ and ‘you did it.’

“It feels really nice to help the little kids learn how to play basketball,” said eighth grader Olivia Lubrano who remembers participating in the Hoops for Heart fundraising event when she was a student at IEF. “I remember the older kids helping me and now I get to cheer on the kids. It’s really nice to help other people now while also having fun.”

Hoops for Heart – along with Jump Rope for Heart, which IEF has held in the past – are major school-based fundraisers for the American Heart Association and SHAPE America. Through these events, students learn the value of community service and become empowered to contribute to their community's welfare; join together in helping other kids with special hearts; learn how to develop heart-healthy habits while being physically active; and learn basketball (or jump rope) skills they can use for the rest of their lives while raising money and awareness for a good cause. As a thank you, students also can earn prizes such as key chains, lanyards and T-shirts, among other items.

For this year’s Hoops for Heart fundraiser, pledge forms were sent home back in January and donations are due back next week. According to Cruts, the average donation per student is around $20 and $25 with a handful of students this year raising over $100 each, including one student who raised $175; two siblings who donated $150 each; and a female IEF student who raised over $500.

“One student promoted it so well she raised $526,” said Cruts. “She did it because she has a friend who suffers from CHD [congenital heart disease] and wears a pacemaker so she is very passionate about the cause. She is our highest fundraiser.”

On average, the event raises approximately $4,000 a year with 2015’s Hoops for Heart fundraiser bringing in $6,800 and earning IEF the honor of being ranked 10th out of all participating schools in New Jersey.

“I could say so much about the generosity in our district ... our families are always willing to give and help out anyway that they can,” Cruts said. “It is great to be part of a school district where people care so much about helping each other or anyone in need. It is inspiring, actually.”

Billman added, “Our school is involved in a lot of different fundraising events and the parents and kids are so kind and generous in giving to people in need.”

According to Billman, the school’s Hoops for Heart event would not be possible, let alone a success, without Cruts’ dedication and hard work. “Nicole pours her heart out putting together this event,” he said of his colleague. “It’s something so meaningful to her and she is constantly going above and beyond to make this event and everything she does a success.”

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