Sharif Atkins Surprises Girlfriend with Proposal at Operation Smile Benefit

05/02/2014 at 12:30 PM EDT

Sharif Atkins Engaged to Bethany Lynn Hotchkiss
Bethany Lynn Hotchkiss and Sharif Atkins at the Operation Smile event May 1
Steve Zak Photography/FilmMagic
Sharif Atkins snuck in some very important personal – and loving – business in the midst of a fundraising benefit in New York City Thursday night.

From the stage at an Operation Smile benefit, held at Cipriani Wall Street, the White Collar actor, who has been a committed fundraising ambassador for the charity, offered a very public proposal to his longtime girlfriend, Bethany Lynn Hotchkiss, PEOPLE has learned.

"She doesn't know I'm about to do this," Atkins, 39, began from the stage, soon lowering to one knee.

The former ER star, who was honored at the benefit, continued.



"For three and a half years you stood behind me. You care and you loved me and I love you very much," Atkins said, amid tears. "So in front of all of our family, in front of your mother and dad, my mother and dad, I would just like to … ask you to marry me."

Hotchkiss was quick with her reply.

"Yes!" she yelled out to the delighted crowd. "And the ring fits!" Atkins responded. Afterward, Jennifer Holiday took the stage to sing, dedicating "At Last" to the couple.

With reporting by LEE HERNANDEZ



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