By LYDIA BERGLR
A Hand Up Ministry’s April 22 gala, Celebration of Hope, brought together supporters of the non-profit, people who have gone through the program, and the former University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt.
Kicking off the evening’s events, VIP ticket holders had the chance to meet Coach Richt, take photos with him, and ask for his autograph.
Attendees bid on silent auction items, with all funds supporting A Hand Up Ministry, before enjoying a meal in the Dade County High School gymnasium. A live auction later in the evening also raised funds for the ministry.
A team of volunteers of all ages helped set up for the event, serve the food, and clean up afterward. One volunteer estimated that at least 60 people served on the team.
A live band performed praise and worship songs, interspersed with testimonies from men and women who have gone through A Hand Up ministry.
The five testimonies from former addicts were personal and honest, recounting past addictions, the path to A Hand Up, encounters with Jesus, the journey to sobriety, and where they are currently in their lives.
Sheena shared, “The enemy’s voice has been very loud, but God’s voice has been louder than the enemy’s…On a Sunday, January 21, 2021, I cried out to God to end my life…I was arrested a few hours later, and God walked me through the doors of The Hope House where I began to learn who our savior was…For the first time in over 21 years, I am two years sober. My message to you today is that there is hope only in Jesus.”
Wendy shared, “God surrounded me with people who showed me kindness and love that I had never known…God restored my family, and I have the two most beautiful girls in the world. I have an amazing job where I have the opportunity to continue my education. I have become the happiest mother, and I have a hardworking husband that provides and loves us.”
Chad recounted how his father’s addiction led him down the same path and how past attempts to overcome his addiction had failed. “I got arrested, went back to jail, and gave my life back to the Lord. I got accepted into Hand Up. Before, when I tried to live for Jesus, I had no structure. Hand Up gave me structure to live a life that’s worth living.”
He explained that he is now helping with the men’s program and is able to work with inmates in the Dade County jail. “The Lord has put me in a place where I can help others…I’m not perfect, and it’s an everyday walk, but thanks to Jesus and Hand Up, I am redeemed and God gets all the glory for everything in my life.”
Candice recalled, “28 months ago, weighing less than 100 pounds, I was a heroin junky, a liar, a thief, a homewrecker, a drug dealer. I was a slave to sin…I had been in and out of jail several times, rehab, detoxes too many times to count…How does one solve a spiritual problem with a chemical solution? You don’t…On December 18, 2020, a call was made about a suspected dead body in a Walmart parking lot. That possible dead body was me.”
She continued, “Hand Up gave me the only answer not to just my addiction, but to life: Jesus. I began building my life on a solid foundation of God’s truth and His grace…Although I have come a long way in these two years, I still have a long way to go, but I can move forward with bravery knowing I can do all things through Christ.”
Candice now has the opportunity to work in the criminal justice system as a forensic peer mentor. “I am now a Georgia Certified Peer Specialist trained and certified to offer hope for recovery through my experience.” She sings with Trenton Ministry Center and Celebrate Recovery’s worship team and works with women in the Dade County jail.
Brandy shared, “I was one of [A Hand Up Ministry’s] first success stories. I struggled for the first 27 years of my life in chaos, dysfunction, and eventually became addicted to methamphetamines…During my last incarceration in 2017, I was transferred to Dade County due to an overpopulation in Chattooga County. I immediately started hearing about this program called Hand Up. Nothing had worked so far, but I had nothing to lose.”
She recounted, “Everyone kept saying, ‘Brandy, you’re going to prison. You’re never gonna change. You’ll never amount to anything.’ But God was telling me, ‘No, Brandy. I have the most beautiful plan for your life, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a husband and children.’ I stand here five years sober. I’ll forever be grateful that Rex and my Hand Up family did not give up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself.”
Rex Mayo, director of A Hand Up Ministry, told the audience, “These five testimonies are you making a difference in this community.” He then introduced Coach Richt.
With a humble attitude, Richt shared stories about his college football career, his attempts to play in the National Football League, and how he became a coach, punctuated with humor and vulnerability. He also shared about his journey to faith in the Lord, a heart attack episode, and his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.
He said, “I love your ministry. I love what you do…You can take the money God has given you and bless a ministry like this, and if just one person comes to know Christ, if one family is reunited because of your help, I can’t think of a better gift.”
A final highlight from the evening was a standing ovation for about 30 men and women (with their families) who have gone through A Hand Up. Some of them have been reunited with children or spouses after overcoming addiction. Some are now able to help others who struggle with addiction.