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 email@example.com 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.”
By Hannah Clere
What you do concerning school safety?
“Well, school safety has been a priority for [the] Floyd County Sheriff’s Department since the Columbine shooting in 1999. At that time I was the SWAT commander here for our SWAT team and I was also the training officer. So I attended trainings across the country on how to train officers and how to respond to school shootings. I also assisted the Floyd County school system in writing their protocols in the school. So we trained in the school, we trained the staff, we helped the school system write their policies and procedures. We have continued that. Since then, every year we do training for the police officers and how to respond to school shootings. It’s not just school shootings, it doesn’t matter to us whether it’s a school or it’s a business; if it is an active shooter, we want to be able to respond.”
What advice would you give to schools to ensure intruder safety?
“First thing that we advise the schools is to be proactive. Note your red flag issues. If you have a student that has gone out of social media, let us know. If you have a student that says something, let us know. Another thing is we need to harden the building. So when I say harden the building, we need to make sure that the building is secure, that intruders can’t get in. When you look at your school building and you know you can only go in one door, that is called hardening the building. Then there are levels of security inside the door. So you have to check in, you have to give your driver’s license, they scan your driver’s license to see who you are, is there a protective order on file or anything like that. We also have the doors numbered, and that is very important because we want to be able to say that there is a problem at Door 4, and everybody knows when they get there they’re going to Door 4.”
What opinions do you have concerning the gun regulations?
“I think that there’s enough laws about gun regulations. Keep in mind that my personal opinion is the gun didn’t kill anybody, the person that had the gun killed somebody. I could take a gun and I can lay it right in the middle of the floor in the cafeteria in your school and it will be fine laying right there, until somebody touches it, picks it up, and points it at somebody else, and puts their finger in the trigger. Then that’s a problem. The gun itself didn’t hurt anybody, it’s the person that had it. We see a large number of people injured on a regular basis with baseball bats, with knives, with all other kinds of weaponry. So the gun’s not the issue. There are plenty of gun laws that are out there. The biggest issue that you have out there that involves school shootings are mental illnesses. So you have to stop and think about the person that is going to do that, most of them don’t think past the killing itself. They don’t think they’re going to survive, they’re willing to die, so you’ve got to say, ‘What is their mental capacity?’ So it’s a mental illness issue. One of the important things that I stress to people on a regular basis, is that we have conflicting laws in this country. So if you have a bad day, and you’re having a time of your life, maybe you’re dealing with a death or you’re dealing with whatever and you check into a hospital for mental illness. Maybe it’s just temporary, maybe you’re just there for a couple of days and you get out and you’re taking medication for a little while, and everything is fine. Then three or four years later you decide to go buy a gun. There is no way to know that you were in the hospital because of the HIPPA laws, no one can tell us that you were in the hospital for mental illness that you had some kind of psychotic behavior or that you were on any kind of treatment. So you have to think about that, that there are things in the way. They won’t show up on a firearms background check. That’s the problem. I’ve been telling legislators and other people, ‘Look we need to fix that.’ Law enforcement and background checks need to know if there was some mental illness in there. The only thing that you can see in a background check is criminal behavior. Well, if you don’t commit any criminal behavior until that day, then there’s no reason to sell you a gun.”
What would you say is the importance of having a resource officer in a school building?
“Well, I’m the one that started the school resource officer program in New Albany Floyd County schools. I was the one that wrote the grant and started that program and in the beginning we saw such a huge connection that was made prior to having a police officer in the school everyday. Students would be very standoffish to police officers and police officers really didn’t know how to deal with students, with younger people. Once we saw how the interaction was with police officers in the building, number one the administration came to love it that they knew that there was a police officer there to help them with the difficult situations of a daily basis. Difficult parents, difficult kids, difficult situations. It took a lot off of their plate. Number two, over the years that we started that — which its been probably 15 or 20 years now that we’ve had police officers in school –we’ve seen a whole culture of young people now relating to law enforcement. So there’s a positive relationship there. The parents love it. There is no way in this community that the parents would stand still for taking police officers out of the building. There’s just no way. They love having an officer there. They know their child is safe and they want that officer there. It’s given us a great relationship with the school system. Were connecting better with the community. A lot of these officers are also involved in coaching and orchestra and different things because of course their kids go there. So there is a connection there, and that is positive for everybody in the community. Not only schools have an officer, but, like, SAM Tech pays a police officer to be out there all the time. They wanted that same relationship. So even in a business they found positive things to have an officer in the building. So SAM Tech pays for a police officer to be there. Almost every Sunday we’ve got almost 10 churches that pay for a police officer to be at church because they’re worried about the same thing that you are. They’re worried about church shootings, which have increased as well.”
Photo by Sophia Perigo
Graphic by Hannah Clere
This timeline is an addition to the music therapy story in the Nov. 17 issue.