How the death of one child has shaped the lives of others for 25 years

Auction goers bid on donated items to support Brandon’s House on Aug. 26. The fundraiser included a meal, a silent auction, and a live auction. Volunteers from Trinity United Methodist shuffled around throughout the evening to help out. Photo by Hannah Clere

By Hannah Clere

He saw his father murder his mother. Scarred from a young age, Brandon Dukes met many struggles in his life. He needed help and he got it. But not long after getting that help, he met the end of his life.

“It was on a Friday night at a softball game and Brandon died right there on that field,” said Bob Lane, volunteer and member at Trinity United Methodist.

Lane was at the game when Brandon had a heart attack in 1993. After everything he had been through, no one saw that coming. Since that day, an effort to help kids like Brandon has been underway: Brandon’s House.

“We are a mental health counseling agency that provides counseling for teenagers and their families. We’re a non-profit. Because we are a non-profit, we do get a high demand of people needing counseling,” said Kathleen Randelia, director of Brandon’s House.

Brandon’s House is an organization founded by Susan Parr. She was the director up until her retirement last year. Parr met Brandon when she was finishing her master’s degree. She saw a teenager who needed help, so she worked with her church to help others like him.

“They provide counseling for those who cannot afford it. A lot of the counselors and staff give a lot of their time to make that happen and make that possible,” said Chris Neikirk, pastor at Trinity United Methodist.

Last Sunday, Aug. 26, Brandon’s House held an auction as a fundraiser at Trinity United Methodist. Randelia is a member there and saw an opportunity to get volunteers as well as a perfect location. Rebecca Snider, a member of the church and a volunteer at the auction, was glad to be able to help Brandon’s House out in any way she could.

“It’s just a great organization and we love Kate [Randelia] and we want to support her. I just hope everybody supports the work they’re doing at Brandon’s House,” said Snider.

She explained how much preparation had to go into organizing the evening — from seeking donations to figuring out what food to buy. Not only that, but preparing the food was a project in and of itself.

“There were four of us that fixed the steaks — 200 steaks today. We had an oversized grill and we started at two o’clock and finished right at five. We wanted to do this because we are very appreciative of the work that’s done at Brandon’s House,” said Lane.

After figuring out the food and donations, the rest came down to who they had as volunteers. Nathan Bleecker, the youth director at Trinity United Methodist, reached out to children of the church as well as all members for help.

“It’s a really cool example of how a church can be a church, not just people going to church,” said Bleecker.

The congregation at Trinity United Methodist showed great compassion as they ran the event Sunday night. Many attendees were able to see what it really means to be involved with Brandon’s House.

“It’s really opened my eyes to how grateful I am to grow up the way I did. A lot of teens don’t want to talk to their mom or dad,” said Chelsea Getty, administrative assistant at Brandon’s House.

To Getty, joining the organization has been a learning experience.

“[Brandon’s House gives] hope. Hope and a safe place to communicate. I’m just glad that we’re there for teens with broken families. We’re a free service,” said Getty.

A counselor at Brandon’s House, Terri Apple, shares views similar to Getty. Apple views her work as nothing terribly extraordinary, but simply as the right thing to do.

“Hope. Relief. We give people relief. It’s not magic, it’s just being supportive at a hard time in their life,” said Apple.

Those who have worked with Brandon’s House have seen the struggles and hardships that many families and young people experience.

“There are so many things that young people go through — all the things they are tempted with and things with families,” said Lane.

Even though the volunteers know that there are many people out there whom struggle, they themselves have difficulty getting the word out about their organization.

“A thing we’ve struggled with is very few people know about Brandon’s House and then you have trouble and you wonder, ‘Where are the resources?’” said Eric Schansberg, president of the Brandon’s House board.

Not only that, but they need counselors. Anyone interested in volunteering and who has studied mental health practices should call (812) 949-2499 or send an email to for more information.

“I started at Brandon’s House in 2011 as an intern. I wanted to help others and was drawn to the counseling world. So I volunteered as a counselor when I graduated. I took over in January as director,” said Randelia.

Through her experience volunteering, Randelia has learned quite a bit. Twenty-five years after the death of Brandon Dukes, the memory of his life remains a strong force for helping others. Randelia sums up what Brandon’s House means to the community pretty well:

“Brandon’s House to me means hope.”

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