With a resounding rumble, dozens of motorcycles on Saturday afternoon poured into St. Elijah Event Center in Merrillville, marking the fourth year for the Hometown Heroes Charity Run.
“I teared up when I was on Taft Street, watching all of the riders leave St. Elijah's,” Pete Dragojevic, event organizer, said. “I teared up from all of the support I see from everyone.”
Last year drew an estimated 400 motorcycles and 1,000 attendees. Dragojevic said while the numbers haven't been tallied yet, this year has been a success, no doubt.
“It's definitely grown in the number of riders and number of participants,” Crown Point Police Chief Pete Land said. “It's great to see all of the citizens who show up to support our cause and our officers. You can't go wrong supporting veterans and law enforcement.”
The event, co-sponsored by Chris Anton FOP Lodge 125, was ripe with the smell of grilled food and the beat of rock classics supplied by Radio One with Doc Daniels. The Lake County Sheriff’s Honor Guard and Pipe and Drums graced the ceremony stage alongside Trent Joselyn, 11, of Crown Point, who sang "Amazing Grace."
This year’s charity run benefited the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Association, to help buy training equipment for their recruits.
“I'm filled with tremendous love and joy to be able to help give future police officers the opportunity to be equipped to train and go out on the streets,” Dragojevic said.
Jason Zaideman, founder of Operation Combat Bikesaver, said last year's charity run benefited his organization and helped Zaideman get motorcycle parts for their veteran-centered nonprofit therapy program.
“It helped us keep our doors open,” Zaideman said. “This event helps nonprofits like the K-9 association, FOPs and the law enforcement academy. They aren't government funded, and this event helps nonprofits to keep serving the community.”
Zaidman said Combat Bikesaver, in Cedar Lake, has been a proud participant of the event since it began.
“The biggest thing it helps with is exposure,” Zaidman said. “Having our tent out here helps us connect with people. There are a lot of veterans that come out for this, and we want to share our program with them, and make them aware we are here.”
Dragojevic and his American Police Association certified K-9, Lycan, did demonstrations, highlighting the importance of trained dogs in policework. Leona Canine Awareness program founder Bob Paulsson said the event was an opportunity to spread awareness of the importance of supporting K-9 police units.
“K-9's are critical to law enforcement,” Paulsson said. “They're another set of eyes and ears for the police. They detect things that officers cannot.”