The last four years have been a blur for Megan Duncan of Olathe.
It’s been that long since Megan and her husband, Dale, learned that their 21-year-old son, Army Spec. Spencer C. Duncan, was killed when his Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.
Spencer, a graduate of Olathe South High School, was among 30 U.S. servicemen killed that day in the largest, single-day loss of the Afghan war.
But rather than get lost in their grief, the Duncans decided to find a way to honor the memory of Spencer while also helping other military veterans. So in the spring of 2012, just months after burying Spencer, Megan and Dale came up with the idea for the Spencer C. Duncan Make it Count Foundation.
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Sitting on a bench dedicated to her son at Olathe’s Veterans Memorial Park, Megan Duncan reflected on her family’s decision four years ago to go public with their grief.
“I think that when you are grieving, you have some choices,” she said. “The choice is not if you will grieve, but how you will grieve. We decided that even though we are private people, grieving out loud was a way for us to honor Spencer.”
Duncan said that starting the foundation to help others has also helped her, Dale and their two younger sons move forward. In the four years since it began, the foundation has raised more than $100,000.
The money is given away in several ways, including book scholarships for student veterans attending Johnson County Community College and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It’s also used to support an organization called Save a Warrior that helps veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress.
The Make it Count Foundation’s biggest fundraiser each year is a 5K run/walk. This year, the fourth annual Spencer C. Duncan Make It Count 5K Run/Walk will be held at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 1 at New Century AirCenter in Gardner. Cost is $30 for non-veterans; veterans are allowed to participate for free and purchase an optional T-shirt for $10, but they must register for the race.
Dale Duncan said race participation has continued to grow from 500 runners the first year to 800 runners last year. He said he’s hoping 1,000 runners will turn out for this year’s event.
Because the foundation doesn’t have any administrative costs and covers only race-related expenses, 80 percent of the money raised is able to be given away to causes that support veterans, Dale Duncan said.
“The money is going to really positive causes,” he said. “We wanted to honor Spencer but we also wanted to help veterans, which we knew he would want us to do.”
In 2014, money raised was used in a variety of ways, including scholarships for three veterans to the Oklahoma State Entrepreneurship Program, which helps train veterans in entrepreneurship and small business management, and donations to the St. Michael’s Center for Veterans in Kansas City, which helps homeless veterans return as productive members of society.
The Duncans are especially proud that money raised through their foundation has helped so many veterans return to education.
“When you can give someone hope you can change the direction of their life and that can change the world,” said Megan Duncan. “These scholarships help change the direction of someone’s life and that has a ripple effect.”
Dale Duncan said he and Megan have received many letters from veterans whose lives have been touched by the foundation. They’ve heard from people who have benefited from scholarships and those whose lives have been transformed after getting help with their post-traumatic stress. He said that for some, the work of the foundation has literally helped save their lives.
It’s clear that Megan and Dale take a lot of comfort in this.
“It is validation for us that this is what we need to be doing,” said Dale Duncan. “And I know Spencer would be smiling.”
The fourth annual Spencer C. Duncan Make It Count 5K Run/Walk will be held at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1, at New Century AirCenter in Gardner. Cost is $30 for non-veterans; veterans are allowed to participate for free and purchase an optional T-shirt for $10, but they must register for the race.
To register for the 5K, visit makeitcount today.org.