Aaron Benn, age 30, grew up in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. “I ran away from my Dad when I was 13 and moved in with my mom,” says Aaron. “She let me do whatever I wanted and I thought that was the life. I stole my mother’s car when I was 15 so she kicked me out. I went back to my dad but in the 10th grade, I dropped out of school and ran away.
“I started selling drugs at 15. I was arrested for attempted murder at age 17. I was innocent and eventually released. I earned respect from the guys in the neighborhood for getting locked up but not telling on the person who did it. That only encouraged me to dig deeper into the street life.
“I had experimented with drugs before but my addiction really developed at age 18 when I tried Percocet after a basketball injury. At age 27, I tried heroin for the first time. Not long after, a federal indictment come down in Cherry Hill and 40 people were locked up – half of them were my close friends. I stopped selling drugs because I didn’t want to be involved in that. But, I still had my drug habit and I could no longer afford it after I stopped selling drugs.
“Everything started falling apart. I couldn’t pay my bills. I left my girlfriend and went into isolation thinking that would be better for me and help me get over using. Instead of helping, my addiction became 20 times worse. I left my place and went to stay with my uncle and started selling drugs again.
“I grew weary of the life I was living. I finally woke up and realized I didn’t want to go any farther down the path I was on. I knew I had been raised better than that. I went to my aunt and uncle’s and asked them to help me. I told them that I wanted to get clean and to get my life right. My aunt told me about the 3 day detox program at Johns Hopkins Bayview. As I spent time in detox, I realized that if I was going to turn my life around, I would need extra help. A 3 day detox program wouldn’t provide me with the support that I needed to make a total life transformation.
“I called my aunt and asked about rehabs in Baltimore. She told me about Helping Up Mission and I called and got all of the information. That day that I came to the Mission, I woke up in the morning and asked God for a sign. I’m a big Ravens fan so, as I got dressed that morning, I put on all of my Raven’s gear. When I arrived at the Mission, they told me that the players from the Ravens were coming for the annual coat giveaway. Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and several other big name players were there. I felt like that was my confirmation. I said, “Okay. This is it. I’m running with it!”
“The first 45 days in the Spiritual Recovery Program were literally the best 45 days of my life. I took that time to get to know myself. I attended all of the meetings and classes that I could and took everything in and applied it. I also attended several of the “HUM U” life enrichment classes – healthy relationships, manhood, anger management, grief and loss as well as others.
“As I progressed through the program, It was so encouraging to hear success stories from the program graduates. From my perspective as a young black man, it was so encouraging to see program graduates that I could related to on the HUM staff. Watching them, I knew that I could clean myself up and get myself together.
“On the first day that I was eligible, I started working on earning my High School Diploma through HUM’s education program. I received my High School Diploma in September 2015.
“I joined HUM’s running team through Back On My Feet. It was so helpful to be able to interact with people outside of the program who genuinely cared about the program members. I started both participating in and volunteering for races in the community.
“The staff at HUM helped me to get my driver’s license and helped me to pay for it through money that was available through Maryland RecoveryNet. For the first time in my life, I’m officially a licensed driver!
“I became an intern in the kitchen. While I was in the kitchen, I met Pastor Reggie from Morgan State. He was volunteering in the kitchen. He encouraged me to start volunteering and working with kids. I did that for quite a while but eventually the volunteer opportunity was over.
“One of the HUM staff members let me know that there was a man from Acts4Youth coming to the Mission. He had volunteer opportunities available that could possibly lead to a job opportunity. I met with him and started volunteering for the summer program. At the end of the 4 week program, he told me he liked the work I was doing. Shortly after, I had an official job interview and began working for them in October. I mentor the kids. We teach them through team building activities. We help them learn to communicate and work well together. I want to reach kids in the whole city. God is not taught to kids enough and the city needs this message. The change in the kids that we are working with shows. We often get good reports from their teachers.
“I graduated from the Spiritual Recovery Program in November 2015. Things are looking good for me! I have my diploma, my driver’s license and a job that I love! I recently moved off of HUM’s campus in December. As for the future, I’m engaged to be married on July 3rd of this year.”
Watch Aaron’s interview at our 2016 Graduation Banquet: