A year after their rescue from nearly 10 years of captive abuse, two of the three Cleveland kidnapping survivors are marking Tuesday’s anniversary with thanks and by joining others in the fight to protect victims.
“So much has happened this past year,” Amanda Berry said in a statement coinciding with an honor recognizing her and Gina DeJesus at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Hope Awards in Washington, D.C.
“I have grown. I am strong. And I have so much to live for, to look forward to. The future is bright,” added Berry, 27.
“This past year has been amazing, full of healing and hope,” said DeJesus, 24. “I am spending time with my family and working with Amanda on a book that we are really excited about. I have also been enjoying new experiences, such as learning how to use new technology and how to drive.”
The third survivor, Michelle Knight – whose memoir, Finding Me, is being released on Tuesday – recounted her experience at the hands of Ariel Castro in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, and said the three young women’s bond helped to keep her going. “I think basically every day we told each other we’d make it out alive,” says Knight, 23.
The Hope Awards offered a welcome opportunity for Berry and DeJesus to be away from Cleveland “with all the emotions the anniversary brings up,” the NCMEC’s family advocacy specialist Shannon Traore tells PEOPLE. “To be able to be here and sending a message of hope is very important to them. Telling their story in their time and in their own words is also important to them.”
Indeed, Berry acknowledged the connection they feel with other victims of abuse.
“On this day, we decided that the right place for us to be was with other families who have gone through what our family has gone through,” she said. “I want these families to know they will always have a special place in our hearts.”
James Wooley and Heather Kimmel, the attorneys for Berry and DeJesus, tell PEOPLE that “Amanda and Gina are doing very well and are grateful for all the support they have been receiving.
“For those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch their journey over the past year,” they said in a statement, “we have seen a remarkable display of resiliency and strength.”
Berry and DeJesus’s book is due out next year. Meanwhile, administrators of the Cleveland Courage Fund say more than 10,000 people have contributed some $1.4 million to Castro’s victims, divided evenly and placed in trusts on their behalf.
“You have made such a difference in my life,” DeJesus said to those who made donations and sent gifts.
To “all the people who have helped and supported my family and me,” Berry added, “you have changed our lives in ways you will never know.”
For more on Michelle Knight’s amazing story, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Wednesday
• Reporting by ELAINE ARADILLAS and SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL