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Couple offering a second chance for unsettled kids

Tim Mutrie

“We both believe that we’re supposed to give back, and this is how we believe we can do it – it all starts with kids.”

Eugene Chiarelli and his wife, Michelle, are backing up that philosophy by starting the Second Chance Ranch, a soon-to-be home for unsettled children, located high in Missouri Heights.

On their first date, Eugene and Michelle envisioned creating a permanent home for kids who don’t have safe, stable homes. They are now married with three children of their own – Noel, 7, Cody, 5, and Carly, 3.

Some 12 years later, the Chiarellis are now creating their vision, building a home for 18 youngsters who will get a new lease on life. The couple hopes to welcome the first children before the new millennium begins, though much needs to transpire before the ranch can accommodate all of the kids the Chiarellis hope will live there.

“When it’s all done, there will be three houses for children – six kids in each house with two caretakers. It’s about fostering families,” said Eugene, a graphic designer. “Our first goal is to keep families together – and our job is to foster the best kids that we can, to give them a sense of belonging and a sense of family.

“By keeping family units together we start that process; by giving them that sense of more brothers and sisters, we continue that process. By giving them a sense of community, we further continue the process, so they don’t have to feel like, `How come nobody else out there is like me?’ “

Two and a half months ago, the Chiarellis received an anonymous $1.3 million donation and bought the 35-acre spread located off County Road 102 in Carbondale. At the same time, they sold their Basalt home to fund the purchase of an adjacent 35-acre lot. The combined acreage has now been dubbed the Second Chance Ranch. Last week, a 20-stall horse barn went up, and a large garden and haying facility are in the works.

In spite all that’s been accomplished, the Chiarellis say they need help in order to see their plans through.

“There’s nothing too small to give, and there are so many angels who have come to help us – there’s something for everyone to do,” said Michelle, a psychologist specializing in movement therapy.

In ranch-speak, an “angel” is a volunteer, and a small band of those angels is already forming. One local woman is making quilts for the children’s beds. And there’s Paulafaith Heller, of The Garden Spot in Carbondale, who has volunteered to manage the vegetable garden.

But the top angels, say the Chiarellis, are Steve and Laura Kuhl, the ranch managers.

“Steve’s the big grunt up here; he’s doing all the work,” said Eugene.

“We’re planning on being here for the long haul. We love the ranch, we love the kids,” said Laura, former barn manager at several valley stables. “Michelle and Eugene are great and we’d like our children to grow up here. Our goal is to be here for the next 10 or 20 years.”

“It’s hard to get people to understand the vision of what’s going on around here, aside from the kids,” said Eugene. “But we’re trying to build a horse facility that is the only foaling facility of its kind in the valley. We’ll be breeding horses. More than likely we’ll be standing five stallions, and we’ll also be standing brood mares as well.

“This whole place is going to be about children, and not necessarily the kids who we’re taking in. We want this to be a place where the community can come together. We will have all kinds of things going on for kids here all the time,” including show-riding events, rodeos and other 4-H-type activities.

In order to fund improvements at the ranch – including the construction of two more houses for children, a community center, and a ranch manager’s house – the Chiarellis hope to raise $4 million. On July 31, they’ll host a fund-raising party at the ranch.

“That’s our big focus right now,” said Eugene. “We’re planning on having entertainment, pony rides, face painting. It’ll all be about kids and introducing kids and their parents to the ranch.

“And we’re looking for money. We make no bones about it – we need to raise about $4 million.”

Once established, Michelle hopes, the ranch will continue to provide a good home for needy children, even generations from now.

“Our hope is that some of these kids, even if it’s one from each house, will go away to school and then come back and run [the ranch]. And it’ll keep going, maybe forever,” she said.

For more information, call the ranch at 963-9563.


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