Lavell Jones woke up on Christmas morning, got himself a cup of coffee and headed for the chapel. On this day, and every day since July 11, he begins by surrendering to a higher power.

Wednesday marks the first Christmas in 26 years that he’s spent sober.


“My eyes are clear again,” said Jones, 42. “I can hear clearly what He’s saying to me.”

Wearing bright red pants and a tie covered with cartoon Santas, Jones shepherded families and volunteers into the annual Christmas lunch at Baltimore’s Helping Up Mission. Inside the nonprofit’s building off East Baltimore Street, men work to overcome homelessness, alcoholism, addiction and mental illness.

Helping Up Mission, one of the city’s oldest nonprofits serving the poor and the homeless, has provided more than 438,000 meals in the past year. But this feast is something special, they say.

Volunteers scooped donated turkey and potatoes onto the plates of hundreds of men and their families. “Merry Christmas,” one bellowed with every meal he served. Some came from the organization’s homeless shelter to enjoy a warm meal. Others saw the flyers posted across town.

Many traveled from across the city to spend the day with the fathers or husbands who are in the midst of Helping Up Mission’s yearlong recovery program. For the first 45 days, the men are required to go through a “blackout period” eliminating almost all contact with the outside world, other than family.

Derel Owens is one month into the 12-month Spiritual Recovery Program. His 10-year-old daughter screamed out “Dad!” when she saw him walk into the Helping Up Mission lobby.

Sitting in the chapel, Ariel Briggs gave her dad the ornament she made for him — a clear orb filled with a picture of the two of them together. He traded her a picture frame he made while going through the recovery program. “To daddy’s lil angel,” read the frame, painted in pastels designed to match the colors of her bedroom walls.

Nicholas Wachter, 59, said that a week and a half before he came to East Baltimore Street for a Christmas meal, he overdosed and nearly died. It took two injections of Narcan, which counters the effects of opioids, to bring him back.

“I’m just happy to be alive,” he said Wednesday. “This is the best Christmas ever, ever.”

Thursday, he says, he plans to join the Helping Up Mission’s recovery program.