In June 2003, David and Sharron Hart unexpectedly lost their daughter, April Marie, who was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
With the help of friends, family and their community, David and Sharron responded to tragedy with hope for the future by establishing the April Marie “Sweet” Hart Scholarship just weeks after their daughter’s death.
April, who began studying to become a teacher in 2000, was a role model not only at VCU but also in her hometown of Sandston, Va. Before starting at VCU, April had gained experience by instructing children as a gymnastics and cheerleading coach.
“There are so many kids out there who never got a chance to experience the gifts that she had, which were love and teaching,” Sharron said.
Since July 2003, David, Sharron, April’s brother, Jonathan, and the rest of the extended Hart family have accumulated more than $30,000 for the scholarship through a series of grass-roots fundraisers. The scholarship is awarded each year to a student in the College of Humanities and Sciences or the School of Education who plans to be a teacher and has shown an interest in gymnastics or cheerleading.
April’s friends and former students at the East Richmond Gymnastics Center jumped at the chance to help build the scholarship. A group kicked off the Harts’ fundraising with an event April had participated in before, a “cartwheel-a-thon,” in which gymnasts complete as many cartwheels as they can to collect on donors’ pledges. It had been one of April’s favorite fundraisers.
The family also teamed up with an Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar for another fundraiser, offering a pancake breakfast for donations. At this event, which took place at a Tappahannock restaurant near April’s grandparents’ home in Lottsburg, the manager donated food, and family members pitched in by preparing the flapjacks and serving customers. All of the proceeds went to the scholarship fund.
The Harts started an equally successful bake sale at the bank where Sharron’s mother works. Now, Sharron said, the annual “April Sweethart” bake sale takes place near Valentine’s Day, with sales of homemade cakes and pies donated by bank employees raising about $1,000 a year.
Each year around Christmas, the family also holds the April Marie Sweethart Shopping Spree in Tappahannock where vendors sell their goods with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting the scholarship.
David Scott Green, the first scholarship winner in 2004-05, knew April not only as a high school classmate but also as a co-worker at the gym, where he was a cheerleading coach. Another recipient, Kelly Ferguson, took her first tumbling class from April.
While the most recent recipient, Laura Davenport, did not know April, she said she is inspired by April’s drive to teach children.
“As soon as I read the description of the scholarship, I knew it was a good fit for me. April Marie Hart had a passion for gymnastics, cheerleading and teaching children, and I share all of these joys,” said Davenport, an undergraduate science major who is simultaneously pursuing a Master of Teaching in Early Childhood/Elementary Education through the extended five-year program in the School of Education.
April’s success now serves as a benchmark that motivates scholarship recipients to do their best. She started gymnastics at age 9, training at the center where she would go on to teach during her senior year of high school. At VCU, April earned high marks during her three years at the university.
April’s father, David, said the family created the scholarship so they could see students such as Davenport succeed.
“We did this more or less to get other kids to become teachers and help the little ones that April loved so much,” he said. “She wanted to get them when they were young and show them learning could be fun.”