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Remembering Erin Peterson

Joyful music will fill the air when the Fifth Annual Erin Peterson Fund Gospel Celebration is held Sunday, April 15, at 4 p.m., at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville. Erin worshiped with her family here and, after she died in the April 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, her own family and her church family celebrated her life together.

During the upcoming event, Mount Olive’s pastor, the Rev. Eugene Johnson, will recall Erin and the things she valued in life. Then her memory will be honored in music and dance.

Erin was a Westfield High basketball star and graduate, and her parents, Grafton and Celeste Peterson, began the Gospel Celebration in remembrance of her. They also started the Erin Peterson Fund in May 2007 to continue their daughter’s commitment to achieving excellence through education and helping those less fortunate.

However, the fund is completely dependent on contributions, so it must be continually replenished to carry on its work. Donations collected during the Gospel program will help provide further educational scholarships and grants for deserving students.

Performers will include soloist Anna Moore; the Mount Olive Baptist Church More and More Praise Liturgical Dancers, Male Chorus and Unspoken Praise Mime Ministries. The dancers and mimes will perform onstage together.

Also entertaining the crowd will be the Radical Praise Mime Ministry, Voices of Tomorrow (Today) Choir from the First Baptist Church in Manassas, and God's Anointed Praise Choir from the First Baptist Church of Vienna.

“This event is really important because it’s a part of who Erin was,” said her mother. “She was a Christian, and proud of it — and she even called home several times while she was at college and asked me to pray for her. Helping people was also important to her, so we wanted to connect the two in this celebration.”

“Erin was quite aware of how blessed she was, and she shared that with other people,” continued Peterson. “Her favorite Bible verse was, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ It was easy for her to talk about Christ.”

The celebration also gives Erin’s family, friends and community another opportunity to remember her and commemorate her life and the legacy she left behind. Following her death, her family established several scholarships and grants in her name, including the Legacy Initiative, given each year in memory of someone who died in the Virginia Tech tragedy. Scholarships also go to graduating seniors at Westfield and Falls Church high schools, in addition to two national scholarships.

“I feel Erin is pushing me to move forward and do the things she wanted to do,” said Peterson. “When you’re helping people, there’s no greater feeling. And when you give away scholarships, you know you’re blessing the kids.” So far, $43,000 in scholarships has been awarded to 31 students — and about a fourth of these scholarships went to Virginia Tech.

In addition, approximately 98 percent of the grant money has gone directly to Westfield for its Boys Leadership Group Today for Tomorrow, which serves and supports at-risk young men attending that school. To date, it’s received about $38,500 in grants from the Erin Peterson Fund.

“It’s exciting to see how we’ve changed a young person’s life and, perhaps, become responsible for that young man becoming all he can be, said Celeste Peterson. “And I absolutely love it.”

It began with 15 boys and now has 35. Currently, there aren’t enough resources to accept more boys, but Peterson is seeking more grant money, as well as sponsors. She’s also pleased that this group is based at Erin’s alma mater. “Erin loved everything about high school and being involved in it,” she said. “Being at Westfield represented some of her happiest times.”

Because of all these things, Erin continues to make a difference in many people’s lives, and via the fund and each of the students who’ve received support from it, she lives on. For more information about the Erin Peterson Fund, see www.erinpetersonfund.org. Mount Olive Baptist Church is at 6600 Old Centreville Road.