By Gerhard Schneibel

Sandy Springs celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19 during a ceremony at City Hall complete with a prelude played by the Ridgeview Charter School Jazz Band and a presentation by the North Springs Charter High School Junior ROTC Color Guard.

Lucy Hall-Gainer, the founder of the Mary Hall Freedom House, was awarded the city’s third annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.

The Mary Hall Freedom House is a nonprofit organization that helps some women escape abusive relationships and addiction. Hall-Gainer named the organization after her mother, who died of alcoholism, leaving behind Hall-Gainer and her six siblings. She was 6 years old at the time.

Hall-Gainer said the award is a sign the Mary Hall Freedom House has found acceptance in a community that is generally affluent. The city has sent a message that “there are the least in this world, and we’re going to recognize and support them,” she said.

“For years, I always felt like Mary Hall Freedom House has been Sandy Springs’ best-kept secret, but it doesn’t need to be a secret because the city embraced it, recognized it, and, most of all, they support it at a time when it’s important to be validated,” she said.

Blanche Morris has been at the Mary Hall Freedom House since Sept. 8, when she escaped an abusive relationship. Her two children are ages 19 and 21, and she has tried to recover from her drug addiction since she was 23 years old.

Being at the Mary Hall Freedom House is teaching her “how to love myself again,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve been in treatment that really reaches every area of my life … psychological, spiritual. It’s helped every area. I love it. It’s been a blessing to me.”

Juanita Sorrell, who has recovered from drug addiction, said she was “at the point of just giving up” when she arrived to the Mary Hall Freedom House.

“Ms. Lucy has just been a blessing to me. My spirits were empty,” she said. “Now I’m a supervisor at my job. She’s been a true blessing to me. She’s awesome.”

Mayor Eva Galambos said Hall-Gainer has “really produced results.”

“A lot of people talk about love and justice and helping people, but she does it. She has helped literally hundreds of women who would otherwise be out on the street,” she said.

Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins said Hall-Gainer is “a living symbol of hope in our community.”

Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries said the Mary Hall Freedom House helps the women who stay there become “more involved in the community and take pride in what they’re doing.”

The Rev. Kelly Barge of Sandy Springs United Methodist Church mentioned the next day’s inauguration of President Barack Obama during his closing remarks at the ceremony.

“He based his candidacy on a message of hope,” Barge said.