Cypress PD Officer Matt Ward loved to laugh, loved his family and loved mentoring Police Explorers.
“Matt saw the tremendous potential in the young men and women he advised, their own potential to positively impact their communities and the significance that mentorship can have on a young person,” said Ward’s mom, Gloria Opstad.
On Oct. 8, 2017, Ward was killed in a car accident. He was 33 years old. He was driving his then 5-year-old son, Liam, to a Cub Scout event. Liam was not physically injured in the accident.
“My son loved being a police officer and especially loved being an Explorer advisor,” said Opstad.
After his passing, his family set up a scholarship for a graduating senior from the Cypress Police Explorer Program that Ward mentored.
“A way for us to carry on Matt’s legacy,” she said.
While setting up the scholarship, Opstad heard many stories from Explorer advisors and members about what an inspiration her son had been for them through the program.
“I knew that this would be something Matt would want to be carried on … an important way for me to honor him,” she said.
Opstad began researching about how to start a nonprofit in June of 2018 and she officially launched the Matt Ward Exploring On Association a year later in June 2019. The foundation’s mission is to help Police Explorers with expenses and costs related to the program (“No Explorer left behind,” she said). Advisors can reach out to the foundation with their program needs or if one of their Explorers is in need financially.
“We are not replacing what each department helps with, but come alongside the department, and are in addition to,” she said. “Budgets can be tight. We often find advisors spending their own money and we want to help.”
The foundation’s current board members include volunteers across agencies and organizations: Gloria and David Opstad (Ward’s mom and stepdad); Connie Vitar (management assistant at Tustin PD); Deanna Hartman (an officer with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office); Travis Hartman (Westminster PD K9 officer); Ken Ramsey (retired Cypress PD sergeant); and Sherrie Ramsey (Pacifica High School in Garden Grove math department head).
“This group all loved Matt and want to carry on his legacy — as well as having been Explorers or advisors themselves,” she said.
The foundation is working with the Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Advisor’s Association (OCLEEAA)
and all the cities they support.
“Our goal is to keep growing and expanding to every Police Explorer program in need, but we will need to keep gathering sponsors and have more fundraisers,” said Opstad. “We are off to a great start. So many believe in the program.”
The foundation is having its first fundraiser, a Dueling Piano Night, on Thursday, March 12 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Old Ranch Country Club in Seal Beach. The fundraiser features appetizers, a cash bar, live entertainment and a lot of fun. Single tickets are $85 and couples tickets are $150 a pair, and other options are available.
“We want this evening to be fun and memorable,” said Opstad. “Matt loved his family and friends, loved to laugh and have a good time. This seemed like the perfect way to start off.”
She said they are planning to have at least two big events each year and will continue to look into other creative ways to raise money to accomplish their mission.
“As a mom that lost her son, it is important for me to continue to honor Matt,” she said. “Nothing will fill the void or the emptiness in my heart, but assisting a program that he was passionate about, that carries on his legacy helps. I think Matt would be proud.”
To learn more about the Matt Ward Exploring On Association, visit ExploringOn.org
To purchase tickets to the Dueling Piano Night, ExploringOn.org/donate