Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Jeannette DeOrchis has a great career as a certified financial planner and senior vice president at a large financial services firm.
She has a strong marriage to one of the top surgeons in his field and has been honored for her work in the community.
She is also a survivor of domestic abuse, both at the hands of an often brutal father and a former husband.
More than a decade after the end of a drawn-out divorce, the coastal Delray Beach resident continues to be an inspiration to others who have endured emotional and physical abuse.
DeOrchis, a board member of Delray Beach-based Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse — known as AVDA — will co-chair of the organization’s Heart of a Woman Luncheon this month, highlighting its 30 years of serving the community.
For DeOrchis, who joined the AVDA board in 2010 after working with the organization for several years, her involvement is as much a tribute to those who were on her side during the dark years as it is a way of showing others that adversity can be overcome.
“To me, it means everything to help women and children in the community who need help,” she said. “I was poor and abused. Being that so many people helped me rise from the desperate circumstances I was in during my childhood and my marriage, I wanted to help others in similar situations.”
DeOrchis is grateful to those who were by her side during her years of living in fear.
“Any person who ever helped me, I am beyond thankful,” she said. “It was as if they had handed me a Tiffany diamond.”
DeOrchis grew up in a tough section of Pompano Beach in a home where abuse was a constant.
“It was pure hell,” she says. “Every night was World War III. Coming home from school I never knew what I would encounter.”
School became a refuge for DeOrchis, who read voraciously and discovered a particular interest in numbers.
“At 10, it occurred to me that I had to somehow escape,” she said. “I discovered the concept of finance.”
For two years, she skipped lunch at school and saved her lunch money, hiding it behind a picture frame in her room. Her goal was to save enough to get a ticket to Massachusetts, where she could live with an aunt. But by the time she had enough money, her father had gone and she no longer needed to leave.
Because her grades were so good, DeOrchis was able to earn a full scholarship to American University in Washington, D.C., where she studied finance and graduated cum laude.
She returned to Florida and met her first husband, whom she married at 25. Emotional and psychological abuse started a year into the marriage and eventually turned physical.
After six years, DeOrchis filed for divorce. During the two years it took for the divorce to be finalized the psychological abuse became severe.
“I was afraid during the divorce,” said DeOrchis, who for privacy purposes requested that her age and her employer not be disclosed. “It’s a terrible feeling to be hunted like an animal.”
There was a point, she says, where she obtained a restraining order with the help of AVDA and considered going into hiding.
“I was very close to moving into the shelter,” she said.
Today, DeOrchis is married to her husband, Doug, a surgeon, whom she knew from her days at American University. They had lost touch for 28 years until about six years ago and were reunited when he moved to Florida to work at a local hospital and discovered she was still here.
Despite all the adversity, she is not surprised by the successes she now enjoys.
“As a child, I would say prayers to God to help me escape and at the end I would say I just know that somehow my life is going to be better.”