Erin Peterson was a basketball star at Westfield High and was almost finished with her freshman year of college, on April 16, 2007, when she became one of 32 people killed in the Virginia Tech massacre. Just 18, she was sitting in her French class when her life ended.
But she had a caring and giving heart and, although taken from this earth at such a young age, her parents, Grafton and Celeste Peterson of Centreville, make sure that her legacy lives on.
They began the Erin Peterson Fund in May 2007 to continue their daughter’s commitment to achieving excellence through education and helping those less fortunate. They also started an annual Gospel Celebration in remembrance of Erin and to raise money for the fund.
This year, the 6th Annual Erin Peterson Gospel Celebration of Life will be held Sunday, April 14, at 4 p.m., at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 6600 Old Centreville Road in Centreville.
The featured entertainer will be Crystal Aikin, the 2008 winner of BET’s hit singing competition, “Sunday Best,” along with area gospel choirs and singers. Also performing will be the Mount Olive Baptist Church More and More Praise Liturgical Dancers and Unspoken Praise Mime Ministries, as well as the Mount Zion Baptist Church Choir.
“It’ll be spiritually uplifting,” said Celeste Peterson. “And if people love Gospel music, we’ve really put together a wonderful program.”
The event is free and open to the public, but donations are welcome.
All money collected during the program will help provide further educational scholarships and grants for deserving students. Since its inception, the Erin Peterson Fund has awarded more than $107,000 in grants and scholarships to aspiring college students.
It’s already given a total of $54,000 in scholarships to 37 recipients. The Fund also plans to award more than $15,000 in new and renewal scholarships this year, including $2,000 to a June graduate of Mountain View High. Scholarships also go to graduating seniors at Westfield and Falls Church high schools.
Almost 100 percent of the grant money goes directly to Westfield for its Boys Leadership Group Today for Tomorrow, which serves and supports at-risk young men attending that school. Currently, 35 boys are in the group and, to date, it’s received $53,000 in grants from the Erin Peterson Fund. For more information, go to www.ErinPetersonFund.Org or call 703-830-8769.
Meanwhile, Erin’s parents continue to grieve for her. “Every day is one day at a time,” said her mother. That’s another reason why the upcoming Gospel Celebration means so much to her.
“It’s important to me to continue Erin’s legacy and do the things she wanted to do,” said Celeste Peterson. “She wanted to someday work for a nonprofit organization and help people. At the time, I didn’t understand it. But now, after starting one in her name, I understand how good it feels to bless someone’s life and actually see that you’re making a difference — and we are making a difference.”