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Daytona 15-year-old racer makes donation to Halifax Health to stop suicide

News-Journal - 10/8/2019

For 15-year-old Daniel Dye, zipping around the New Smyrna Beach Speedway in his No. 43 white, orange and black stock car is the highlight of his day.

But for the Father Lopez High School sophomore, it's more than just the thrill of the race. The NASCAR Pro Late Model Driver has partnered with Halifax Health as a way to create awareness and understanding of suicide in his community.

"It's just something that affects a lot of people, especially in high school," Dye said. "That's one of the main times where this (suicide) really impacts people."

Since 2009, 27 children have died by suicide in Volusia and Flagler counties, according to the Florida Department of Health. Both counties are above the state average for suicides, part of an unsettling nationwide trend. Flagler County had the highest rate of suicides in the state in 2017.

In 2018 more than 500 people attempted suicide in Volusia and Flagler counties, and 152 of the attempts were fatal. That amounted to a suicide death every 2.5 days, according to data The News-Journal collected as part of an effort to analyze every incident in which a person was shot in Volusia and Flagler counties that year.

[NEWS-JOURNAL INVESTIGATION: The Truth About Shootings]

And Dye, along with his father Randy Dye, owner of Daytona Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM & FIAT, are doing even more than just starting the conversation. Last week the Dye's presented a check for $15,000 -- which they raised through the golfing tournament Golf for Kids Sake -- to the Halifax Health Foundation to help fund mental health programs for children.

"Daniel's not only an outstanding race driver, but he wants to make a difference with the students and let them know it's OK to seek help," said Halifax Health Foundation Executive Director Joe Petrock. "This donation helps us continue to improve the quality of the services that we provide to our community."

Earlier this year, Halifax Health started a suicide prevention and awareness initiative called Connect 4 Hope, which encourages three types of personal connections: Connecting with yourself by having a daily mental health check-up; connecting with someone who you trust to listen to your struggles; and connecting to resources available in the community.

The Dyes' donation will help fund the efforts Halifax Health is making to help residents connect with themselves and others about their feelings, according to hospital spokesman John Guthrie. The hope is the effort will stop suicides.

[READ MORE: Halifax Health starts suicide prevention and awareness initiative Connect 4 Hope]

As part of collaborative Race to Stop Suicide campaign with Halifax Health, Dye speaks to fans and families of other racers about their struggles with suicide.

"I had a family member of one of the teams come up to me, give me a big hug, and started to cry a little bit about the deal we were doing because her son tried (to die by suicide) twice," Dye said. "He's a survivor. It was really cool to be able to talk to her about that. It's awesome that it didn't happen and she still has her son."

Dye said his stock car, which has Race to Stop Suicide printed in bold black letters on the hood, has become a conversation piece at the tracks.

"People seeing that is actually breaking the barrier and actually be able to talk about it," he said. "Since you see somebody out in public with a pretty good following talking about this kind of thing, this kind of breaks that conversation barrier."

In order to make the connections and start the conversations, Dye has been pulled from school more days than he can count. But his teachers, along with Father Lopez High School Principal Leigh Svajko, have been more than accommodating of his mission.

"We are very proud of Daniel and what he's doing," Svajko said. "It's a topic that not everyone wants to talk about but has to talk about. Having someone his age out there in the forefront bringing this out there to be discussed and de-stigmatizing it, is awesome."

The conversation about suicide isn't just limited to Volusia County. Dye's racing has taken him to other states like Georgia and Alabama.

"Other communities face this conversation about mental health," Randy Dye said. "It gives us an opportunity to have conversations everywhere we go."

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