Couple finds, builds Second Chances

Brenda and Gene Duncan are seen Second Chances, a group home in Granada that they live in and own.

With a dedication to helping others, Second Chances in Granada continues to make a difference.

Second Chances is a non-profit group home for boys ages 12-18, with a goal of each resident gaining enough confidence and skills for a smooth transition back into society and their family.

The group home is licensed through the state, dealing with boys court ordered through the Department of Corrections or Human Services. Second Chances works with counties all over the state, including Freeborn, Watonwan, Brown and Faribault.

Brenda and Gene Duncan, who run the group home, use a house-parent model, in which they live in the home with the boys and provide a home-like environment.

Both Gene and Brenda had tough childhoods, both spending time in and out of their homes during their formative years. Although Brenda had a baby as a teenager, she finished high school and went to vocational school for her secretarial degree. She had multiple jobs to make ends meet as a single mother.

“It was an extremely difficult time,” she said.

At one point, Brenda moved back to her hometown of St. Peter, where she met Gene.

However, Gene said, their marriage didn’t always mean “happy ever after.” The couple struggled with addiction and lost their house to foreclosure. They both knew it was time for a change.

“In order to get off meth and other drugs, it’s a good idea to find another cause,” Gene said. “And that’s what we did.”

Brenda’s cause was to fulfill her goal of becoming a social worker. To do this, she went back to school and got her degree.

The couple ended up in Granada after the roof of their trailer in Mankato was ripped off during a wind storm. That’s when Gene’s uncle, who owned property in the area, offered them a home.

“He said ‘$8,000 and pay me when you can,'” said Gene. “How do you turn terms like that down?”

Once in Granada, Gene focused on rebuilding his business while Brenda worked in long-term care nursing, as she couldn’t find a social work job in the area.

When they talked about what they wanted to do with their lives, Brenda wanted to do social work while Gene wanted to work with dogs. When the church near their house went under, the couple saw an opportunity to do what they loved. Buying the church property and the property across the street, they renovated the church to feel more like a home, with two bedrooms to house up to six boys, a bedroom for Gene and Brenda, a family room, a kitchen, a dining room and a basement.

While the original idea was to open up a dog rescue center across the street, it is currently on hold for financial reasons. Instead, there are plans to start with building a community dog park sometime in the future.

After some hard work and dedication, Second Chances opened on Aug. 5, 2015.

Gene said Second Chances runs like any other household with teenage boys. The boys go to public school, do homework with Brenda and Gene and help out around the house. The group always has meals together around the dining room table, and twice a month, one of the boys gets to pick the meal. But there’s a catch, said Brenda, as the boys then have to help prepare it.

In the summer, it’s not uncommon for the group to go camping and do other outdoor activities.

“Really we try to run it like a households, like a family unit,” Gene said. “Some of these kids come from homes that are unorthodox, and they really have no idea how parents should interact with each other, and they really have no idea how a household should run, how to make it run smoothly. So we try to be kind of that role model.”

Brenda works with the boys using “Thinking for a Change,” a federal Department of Corrections program designed to identify the ways the boys have made decisions in the past that may have gotten them into trouble, and to change that thought process.

“We try to express that a bad decision does not necessarily make you a bad person, you just made a bad choice,” Gene said. “A lot of these kids have just no self-esteem and they made bad decision after bad decision. They think that’s all they’re capable of or worthy or, and they get stuck into that.”

Brenda said it’s important to keep the parents involved, as they can offer insight into what the boys need. The group home has family visiting time on the weekends. When families live too far away, Gene will sometimes take time out of his day to pick them up.

“We try to alleviate as much responsibility for the parents just to encourage them to be here, to be involved,” Gene said. “Their input is really what matters, because eventually [the boys are] going to go home.”

One thing the couple has learned is that when it comes to family dynamics, the word “normal” doesn’t exist.

“That’s been the most ironic thing about this program so far,” Brenda said. “You would think that you would see some patterns or some type of family familiarity, but there isn’t. The different dynamics of families we deal with is just mind-boggling, truly.”

Having put all of their life savings into building Second Chances, donations to the group home have made all the difference, Brenda said. Many people and businesses have helped along the way, from donating money to buy groceries, businesses giving discounts on certain items, and people bringing in trays of cookies and clothing for the boys.

“Since we’ve opened up and we’re starting to show what we’re doing, we’ve got a lot more community support financially,” Gene said. “When we first presented this idea to the community, people thought we were nuts. They really did.”

“I think it’s because we’ve proving our program,” Brenda added.

Recently, Second Chances received a $1,860 grant through the Martin County Area Foundation to build a deck to host cookouts for the boys and their families during the summer. Eunoia Family Resource Center also donated $100 to assist with the cost of construction. According to Brenda, the Martin County Area Foundation and the Carl & Verna Schmidt Foundation have been the largest contributors to Second Chances.

Looking toward the future, Gene and Brenda said the next step is to open up a girls home, with hopes to open more and more group homes in the area.

“I still don’t think it’s unreasonable to see 10 of these homes in 20 years,” Gene said.

When Brenda and Gene talk about Second Chances, one can hear the amount of time, work and love they have put into the group home.

“We are extremely passionate about what we’re doing here,” Brenda said. “We really, really would like to make our program work, and it is.”