Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus: Their 'Coolest Experience' Since Being Free

Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus: Their 'Coolest Experience' Since Being Free
From left: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight

updated 05/07/2014 at 02:45 PM EDT

originally published 05/07/2014 03:05PM

Amanda Berry was overcome by tears as she accepted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children HOPE Award Tuesday night.

"If I could say one thing, it's this: Never give up hope," Berry, 28, said as her voice broke, "because miracles do happen."

At her side was Gina DeJesus, also honored by the National Center.

"Always believe in hope, even though sometimes it's hard to believe in hope. Just pray to God and He'll be there with hope," DeJesus, 24, said at the Center's Washington, D.C. benefit dinner, where supporters gave the two women – who along with Michelle Knight spent nearly 10 years as Ariel Castro's captives – a prolonged standing ovation.

Child-safety activist John Walsh of TV's America's Most Wanted heralded the women as "a lightning bolt of hope."



The pair and their families were treated to the trip to Washington – their first time on an airplane – by National Center donors to mark the one-year anniversary of their escape from Castro's Cleveland house.

Castro, who committed suicide in jail last year after being sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for his crimes against Berry, DeJesus and Knight, whose memoir is out this week.



"I don't know how you found the courage to persevere," Walsh told Berry and DeJesus Tuesday night.

Earlier Tuesday, Berry and Knight met privately at the White House with President Obama and Vice President Biden. And on Monday, they toured the executive mansion, the Rose Garden, Mrs. Obama's kitchen garden and got to meet Bo, one of the Obama family's dogs.

"The White House was the coolest experience since I've been home," said Berry. "It was unbelievable."

For more on the women and Michelle Knight's amazing story, including an exclusive excerpt from her memoir, Finding Me, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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