Wilmenia Gripper was a fourth-grader in Charleston, W.Va., when she discovered what has become a lifelong passion:
The jump rope.
Teach children to jump rope and you build their confidence, Gripper, 31, told me last week.
The activity helps keep them in shape, away from the video-game console and off the streets, she said.
Gripper, a professional fitness instructor, founded 1,2,3 JUMP Inc. in Concord to expose more children to jump rope.
She also is the technology assistant at Kannapolis Intermediate School and does continuing education for the Cabarrus Health Alliance's Healthy Lives, Healthy Futures program, which aims to reduce the risk of chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. In that role she sets up fitness ministries at churches serving low-income populations.
Gripper founded the faith-based, nonprofit 1,2,3 JUMP program in October 2006, after a six-week pilot program that year at Kannapolis Intermediate School.
Being in her school's jump-rope club and performing before her parents and other adults meant a lot to her as a child, Gripper said.
"It was just fun for me, being able to show off something you learned, putting in the work to learn the tricks and skills," she said.
Gripper will spread her joy of jump rope to the entire community with a "Jump into Giving" benefit at the Church of God Children's Home in Concord on Saturday.
Watch children perform various jump-rope maneuvers and try them yourself at the event. It will also include music, food, bounce houses and jump rope games. Admission is free, but everyone is asked to bring an item to donate for the home.
"Their needs list includes simple items such as toilet paper and laundry detergent," said Tori DaCosta of 1,2,3 JUMP. "By providing these items, we are hoping to makes things a little easier for the children and staff at the home. At the same time, we want to have fun doing it."
Mary Swartz and her daughter Jaclyn, a ninth-grader at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis, plan to volunteer at the event. Jaclyn learned to jump rope through the pilot program when she was in sixth grade at Kannapolis Intermediate.
"It taught me a lot of responsibility," Jaclyn said. She helped others with their routines and learned the importance of doing well academically, she said.
1,2,3 JUMP is relaunching its efforts in Cabarrus County at the event while raising awareness and donations for the home, Gripper said .
The organization has conducted jump-rope summer camps in recent years with Carolinas Medical Center's Northlake Mall location.
The nonprofit also provides summer classes through the Cabarrus County Parks & Recreation Department's Outdoor Discovery Day Camp.
Gripper hopes to expand the program by using Saturday's event to recruit more volunteer coaches. The coaches will learn to train others to launch jump rope programs at churches, schools and recreation sites.
1,2,3 JUMP tries to show children through jump rope that "you're more than your circumstances," Gripper said. "You can overcome obstacles. We use jump rope to help get them there."