Valley couple turn heartbreak into suicide prevention nonprofit
When Valley residents Mario and Kerry D’Ortenzio’s youngest daughter was born, she rocked their entire world.
Reese was born with a terminal illness called Aicardi Syndrome; a rare disorder mostly present in girls with roughly 1,000 reported cases in the United States. The life expectancy for children with the disorder is 5 to 10 years.
Questions of why she was born this way left the couple in a dark place, but Reese’s life deepened the couple’s passion for helping others. Through the sadness that came with her prognosis, the couple birthed an idea to ministry that would reach hurting children and teenagers around the world.
“Kerry and I both in a very short time realized how much of an absolute gift she is and what a blessing she is to our family,” Mario D’Ortenzio said. “What God is doing through her and our other daughters in a very supernatural way.”
The vision for the nonprofit began to take shape when he took a hike, the grief of Reese’s condition still weighing on the family. The couple were at a point in their walk with God where they felt tugged to try something new and different.
“I think that Mario has always had a love for the outsider kid,” Kerry D’Ortenzio said. “The kid who doesn’t fit in at church, or even at school. And I have always had a love for people who are hurting and who are broken.”
When he came home from his hike, he laid out the vision to his wife and the two thought and prayed separately about what to call the nonprofit. Kerry D’Ortenzio was reading her bible when she came across a verse that said to “live as though you have been raised from death to life.” Her husband had the same idea.
“I was just thinking, ‘That is what discipleship is about –What evangelism is about,” she said. “We’re living in that darkness, and then Jesus really giving us life – a full life.”
And in 2008, Death2Life Revolution was born.
Death2Life is a nonprofit that provides resources for individuals struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts and actions. Though it initially targeted teens and young adults, people of all ages reach out to the organization every day, from 7-year-old children, to individuals in their 60s. The website reaches more than 300 countries and is available in 50 languages. Hundreds, and even thousands, of suicidal individuals visit the site every day.
“The original plan was to evangelize and disciple, but Google reached out to us during that time and said, ‘because of your name, because of your logo, because of all the people who are associated, we’re finding more and more suicidal people reached out to you,’” Mario D’Ortenzio said.
The conversation spurred Google to partner with Death2Life, and through their connection, the website is one of the first results in Google searches pertaining to suicide and its easiest methods.
“Because of the Internet, there’s a lot of negative things that come from it,” Kerry D’Ortenzio said. “But there is also a way to connect millions of people in a positive way. We just wanted to be a lighthouse and a way to disciple kids.”
Many of the individuals who reach out have told the couple that it was not at all what they were looking for. Some who have reached out are still in touch years later. Though a faith-based organization, its top priority is to counsel and help individuals who reach out, giving them the option later to learn more about Jesus and Christianity.
Public figures from all walks of life have endorsed the organization and are featured in videos on the website, including pro snowboarder Kelly Clark and Korn guitarist Brian Welch.
The organization has 400 trained counselors but needs more to keep up with its growth. Since the beginning of 2018, the site’s traffic increased 400 percent, according to the D’Ortenzios.
Scott Martin, an outreach and young adult pastor at Illuminate Community Church, witnessed the epidemic of depression first-hand while working as a program director at a residential treatment facility for teenagers. The spread of depression and suicide is wider than most expect, he said. The church looks for individuals and organizations that work in the community.
“I probably refer one or two people a week to talk to [Mario],” he said. “He and his wife are always available, always helpful, and they’ve also done a suicide prevention class at the church.”
As the organization grows, the D’Ortenzios are working on a fundraiser to hire more counselors. With its rapid growth this year, they want to ensure someone is always available to talk.
But for the couple, everything connects back to Reese and how her life spurred the worldwide nonprofit.
“God took a real, real gnarly thing in our lives from the world’s perspective – having a disabled child – to impact thousands of kids all around the world who are lost or are struggling,” Mario D’Ortenzio said.