DESOTO - Jason’s Foundation president and CEO Clark Flatt promised to keep more than dreams alive when he announced the opening of a new office during a luncheon this week at Hickory Trail Hospital.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the awareness, education and prevention of youth suicide. It will open up its 62nd office at Hickory Trail and Flatt said he is looking forward to the potential of the program in a smaller community.

“What makes us unique is that we open a lot of locations in the grass-root level areas,” Flatt said. “It helps when the staff are from the community and it makes for a better situation in our office.”

The reason for the office is because youth suicide is the third highest cause of death for ages 15-24 and, during the last 40 years, the number of youth suicides in that age bracket has tripled.

DeSoto Mayor Bobby Waddell sees this growing number as a threat to the lives of the youth in his community and believes the office will have an impact.

“As long as suicide continues in every community, there will be a need for a place like Jason’s Foundation,” Waddell said. “I’m looking forward to the work they will be doing.”

The office will provide specifically-geared information on the prevention of youth suicide to the community for free.

“We don’t charge anyone who wants to participate with our office,” Flatt said. “There are three sections to our foundation in preventing youth suicide - youth, educators and parents.”

Flatt believes, with this addition, a significant impact will be witnessed.

“I see the potential of how many lives that can be saved,” Flatt said. “Anything we can do to prevent the loss of a child.”

The loss of a child is something Flatt is all too familiar with.

Jason’s story

At the beginning of July 1997, Flatt felt he had it all.

“I had the type of life many people would consider a good one,” Flatt said. “I had two sons, a dog, a cat, a boat, lived close to a lake and a successful career.”

Flatt thought everything had seemed to fall in place until July 16, 1997. That day, which would go on to not only change his life but also the lives of so many more, started with an ordinary phone call.

“I received a phone call from one of his friends asking if I knew where he was,” Flatt said of his son, Jason. “After getting off the phone I felt my parental intuition kick in, something wasn’t right.”

Flatt would spend all morning in a panic desperately trying to get in contact with his son. He used a special code number used only in case of an emergency but never got a response. After that, Flatt decided to go to his home to check to see if Jason was there.

“When I pulled up to my house I could see his car there,” Flatt said. “I felt a sense of ease as I knew for sure he would be inside the house. We would wrestle for a little bit and then go outside, sit in the back in the truck and talk. We talked about everything: girls, football, sports, school.”

Flatt would never get a moment like that with his son again. He walked into Jason’s room only to find his son’s body. Jason had taken his life with a .38 caliber gun. Flatt recalled repeatedly checking his son’s wrist for a pulse, hoping the circulation of blood would provide a pulse - but it never did.

“If it wasn’t for family and friends, I don’t know if I would have made it through this,” Flatt said.

He also remembered something one of Jason’s friends kept insisting that he do, which at the time he felt was unimaginable.

“One of Jason’s friends kept telling me to find the good in this,” Flatt said. “I couldn’t understand how someone could tell a parent who has lost a child to find good in that.

“I’m glad he didn’t give up on me because I was able to find good in Jason’s death,” he said.

That good thing would come in an unlikely place, the Internet.

Birth of Jason’s Foundation

Flatt credits the start of Jason’s Foundation to a lonely search on the Internet.

It was there that he saw for the first time the statistics on youth suicide. Nobody ever told him that, there were clubs against drugs, bullies and alcohol, but never was there a mention of suicide.

“I never would have thought about that,” he said. “At that time, I thought my son doesn’t fit the profile of someone who would commit suicide.”

Flatt was stunned to see the rate of youth suicide - and in that moment he decide he had to do something.

Jason’s Foundation opened its doors in October 1997. Since its inception, it has grown into the largest nonprofit organization addressing youth suicide.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth in those 10 years,” Flatt said. “I couldn’t do what has been done without the team of people at Jason’s Foundation. It would not be what it is today.”

Funding the foundation

Flatt is still surprised he is able to do this without charging those who need the help.

“We don’t charge for any of our programs,” he said. “We have had over 800,000 children and 200,000 adults in our programs and seminars.”

Although it is a challenge to provide these services for free, the foundation gets contributions from national affiliates such as Psychiatric Solution Inc., American Football Coaches Association, U.S.A. Wrestling and attorney generals.

“It’s amazing to see individuals come together and share whatever talents we have to help prevent suicide in our community,” he said.

With the new office to be up and running, Flatt made a promise to those on hand.

“I promise there will be a kid … who will have one more day because of the foundation,” he said. “I experienced (the impact of youth suicide) when I lost my son, Jason, on July 16, 1997 … and I want to make sure we do what we can to not let that happen to anyone else.”

E-mail Anthony at anthony.davila@wninews.com