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'Knowing that I help makes me happy': Gina DeJesus reflects on life, activism 8 years after rescue

Since escaping the house of horrors on Seymour Avenue, DeJesus is using her platform to help the families of other missing people in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND — Time moves differently for Gina DeJesus these days.

"When I was in that house, it took a real long time," she says. "Now, eight years have gone by real fast."

Things feel a lot different, too.

"This is my normal life," she adds, relieved. "This is as normal as it gets."

MIRACLE IN CLEVELAND: 8 years since Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped

DeJesus is still growing up around the corner from Seymour Avenue, where for roughly a decade she, Amanda Berry, and Michelle Knight were held captive inside the home of Ariel Castro. Eight years after their miraculous rescue, we caught up with her under her two-story-high mural finished last fall.

"When I seen Gisela [McDaniel] out here painting ... I would drive by just to see it," DeJesus said. "I feel like it's freedom, hope, and positive, to bring to the neighborhood every time I look at it."

Often, she sees the mural from inside her offices at the Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults. She founded the nonprofit in 2018 with her cousin, Sylvia Colon.

They've helped dozens of families search their loved ones and sometimes find closure, like with the family of Nathan Orona last month.

"We had the one case, the Orona family, that didn't have a good outcome," DeJesus lamented. "We want families to always have a good outcome. ... That was a little new to me, and different."

Watch our extended 10-minute interview with DeJesus:

So what does Gina say to families that come to her for help and support?

"Maybe they don't want to do an interview, but I tell them, 'You need to do the interviews. What if your kids are watching?' It gave me hope every time I would see my family on TV.

"When I was feeling down or something, and my parents would be on TV, they would give me that much more hope. ... They were not going to give up, so I was not going to give up either."

In regards to her time in Ariel Castro's house of horrors, it's not something DeJesus likes to think about.

"I try not to," she explained. "I don’t like how I feel when I think about it, so I try not to. I mean, it does bother me sometimes, but I try not to think about."

Instead, she’s focused on the life she’s now chosen, and finding the space to unwind.

"I like nature, I like the birds, the trees," she said. "It's, like, the little things in life that people take for granted."

May 6 is a day Gina celebrates like a birthday of sorts, this year likely with family time and her mom’s cooking. And if she gets a wish?

"Give more hope to families really," she answered. "Bring all the loved ones home. That's what I’m wishing for. ... Knowing that I help makes me happy."

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