The two Cleveland kidnap survivors met at the White House on May 6 with Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime supporter of legislation to end violence against women. And President Barack Obama dropped by his VP’s West Wing office to say hello.
In an email to PEOPLE, DeJesus called it an honor, adding of Biden, in particular: “I enjoyed our talk; he is very down-to-earth :-)”
Berry, who bought a special White House frame to showcase her presidential and vice-presidential photo op, said she appreciated how much time Biden spent with them. “It was one of the most unbelievable moments in my life,” Berry said.
“They were just grinning from ear to ear,” says Shannon Traore, the family-services specialist from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children accompanying the group, which included DeJesus’s mom and dad and Berry’s older sister, Beth Serrano.
Berry, 28, DeJesus, 24, and their families were treated to the trip – including their first plane ride and all the regular D.C. sightseeing – by donors to the NCMEC. The group honored the women at its annual HOPE Awards dinner on May 6, the one-year anniversary of their escape – along with Michelle Knight, 33 – from nearly 10 years of captivity. For the emotional, but uplifting, occasion, the women were also treated to a shopping spree and salon visit.
At the dinner, they met Katie Beers, who survived her own kidnapping and imprisonment in a hole for 16 days in 1993, at the age of 10.
It was a meaningful connection for DeJesus and Berry, says Traore. “They enjoyed being surrounded by other heroes, other people who have overcome – to know that they aren’t alone but are cared for and valued.”
Before heading home, they saw the pandas at the National Zoo, visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and National Cathedral, and took a D.C. tour buzzing by the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
“Amanda and Gina are both so well-connected to their families,” says Traore, “that it was really special for them to experience the newness of being just normal tourists together – just people-watching, souvenir-shopping D.C. tourists.”
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