As more than 100 men who had completed a Baltimore drug addiction recovery program stood onstage in suits after receiving their certificates, a packed Baltimore County ballroom broke into a sustained standing ovation.
Gov. Larry Hogan shook each man's hand as they crossed the stage at the Helping Up Mission's 2018 Graduation Banquet on Sunday at Martin's West, and congratulated each of them.
"Even in the midst of our darkest days, there's always hope," the governor said. "These men are proof that through faith, hard work and a helping hand, people can turn their lives around."
The men had finished a yearlong, 12-step spiritual recovery program at the mission, which provides shelter and services to 500 men in the city's Jonestown neighborhood. In video testimonials played during the banquet, several of the men credited the program with helping them turn their lives around. A choir of Helping Up residents sang before and after the ceremony.
The banquet, a 1,500-seat fundraiser, sought to raise more than $500,000 for the mission. Helping Up also solicited gifts for its planned $35 million women's and children's center to provide shelter, treatment and services to women and children — populations the center does not serve now.
The state has allocated $500,000 to the Helping Up Mission in its latest budget, the governor said.
Sunday marked Steven Gallop's second time through the Helping Up program — his "second chance at a second chance," he said.
A desire to be a better person motivated the 54-year-old's decision to try again, he said. Meeting Hogan and having such a strong reaction from the packed room of donors was "really humbling," Gallop said.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "It was a long year for us. … There's a lot of people out there who have faith in us."
Dean Carter, a program graduate recovering from heroin addiction, had used the drug more than 30 years before walking into Helping Up in September 2017. He recalled spending his first days at the center imagining how he could get out.
One day, as he sat coloring with his chin on the table, George Ligons walked into the room.
Ligons said he didn't yet know anyone in the program. When he approached Carter, the two became instant friends. Now they consider each other brothers.
"He got me the first suit I ever owned," Ligons said.
Rosemary Hutcherson, whose brother Elroy, 58, graduated in 2013, knows firsthand how challenging addiction recovery can be.
"It's something you've got to want," she said.
Elroy Hutcherson agreed, and he said the program offers inspiration to people who desperately need it.
"Everybody has a different addiction," he said. "It's all about changing for the better."
Keith Hiss, a member of Helping Up Mission's board of directors, said most 30-day programs are typically insufficient to treat addictions that sometimes span decades.
Hiss, who owns Better Engineering, a White Marsh industrial machinery manufacturer, said the program offers the men a "rebirth." Many leave the program with a job already lined up, and a chance to resume their roles in their families' lives.
"It's not just a second chance," he said. "It's literally a whole new life with a new perspective about life."
Dan Covington, owner of Maryland Tax Appeals in Towson, first heard of Helping Up Mission several years ago while he was stopping at Attman's Delicatessen on East Lombard Street, and a man asked him for $3, the price of a night at the mission.
Covington said he got involved in Helping Up to see how he could help. His business was a Circle of Love sponsor at Sunday's banquet, donating between $3,000 and nearly $6,000.
Explaining his love of the program, Covington ticked off a list of medical, educational, dental, counseling, housing, job application and other services the center provides its undergraduates.
"It's a program worth supporting," Covington said.
Frank Kelly III and his wife, Gayle, owners of Kelly & Associates Insurance Group and Kelly Payroll in Sparks, are leading the $35 million fundraiser for the women's and children's center. The center, at 1216 E. Baltimore St., is expected to open to about 300 residents in 2020.
"Sometimes you may not be able to help the ones you love," Gayle Kelly said, "but in doing something for the greater community, you know you'll help somebody."
The program isn't easy. Of the more than 1,500 men who enrolled between July 2014 and November 2016, fewer than 20 percent completed the full year sober, Frank Kelly said.
"We're celebrating those 20 percent," he said. "It's a celebration and a way to honor, bless and encourage them. These guys are getting a graduate degree in living life without drugs or alcohol."