Hours after the funerals for Westerville Division of Police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering, the Westerville Education Challenge heldthe first social gathering in the city that celebrated their lives.
John Bokros, who retired from the fire service in Westerville, said he heard from a chaplain at the funeral "to move from the dark to the light."
"Now our charge is to celebrate the lives of Tony and Eric," he told the crowd gathered at the Feb. 16 event. "Tony was at this event last year. Both Eric and Tony were involved in the schools in their jobs."
Bokros said it's everyone's obligation to celebrate the lives of the officers, and that started with the Rock This Town '80s Party, held at the Medallion Club, 5470 Medallion Drive W. in Westerville.
Rock This Town serves as a fundraiser for the school district's Challenge Day that is held over several days at Westerville's high schools. Organizers said more than $40,000 in donations and sponsorships had been tabulated and more are continuing to come in and be processed.
Kristan Robertson, Westerville Education Challenge president, said Challenge Day builds the empathy of the youth it seeks to engage and also that of the adults involved.
Robertson said more than 5,000 students have participated in Challenge Day, and the program will be expanding its reach as it goes into the middle schools.
Rock This Town's guest speaker, known as the Amazing Tei Street, said she has visited several Westerville schools on various occasions.
Street, a motivational speaker and author, thanked Rock This Town participants for doing what they're doing to raise money for something such as Challenge Day.
"We know education is so much greater than what they learn in a book," she said. "When you go home, hug your kids and help someone else's kids as well."
Street said there are children in every community who aren't getting loved.
"When you raise money for whatever initiative to make a difference, it takes all of us to save America's kids," she said.
Nancy McFarland, a Westerville Education Challenge member, said Challenge Day is beneficial to students.
Katie Lesmerises said she has served as a Challenge Day volunteer in 2015 and 2017.
"I think it's an excellent program," she said. "It's life-changing for the students and volunteers. It helps students find commonalities."
Lesmerises said she was happy to come out to Rock This Town to support a good cause.
Doug and Nikki Moore sported Top Gun bomber jackets for the '80s theme party.
They are the parents of three children who attend Westerville schools and one who has graduated.
"My parents were public school teachers," Doug Moore said. "A big part of growing up was to support the schools."
"It's a good event to mingle and it's for a good cause," Nikki Moore said.
Shawn and Brittany Hoder said they just went to their closets to find '80s outfits.
Shawn Hoder sported clothes like those worn by Don Johnson on the television show "Miami Vice."
"We have young kids," Brittany Hoder said. "We love to get involved in things that are local."
Since 2009, the Westerville Education Challenge has donated more than $70,000 to the Westerville City School District to support Challenge Day at all three Westerville high schools.
It also has contributed to grants for educators and a partnership with Westerville middle schools.
Westerville Education Challenge's mission is to financially support middle and high school initiatives that enhance character education, and social and emotional well-being.