Granny’s House provides a safe, loving after-school home for kids.
There’s nothing like a grandmother’s love — or homemade cookies baked by your grandmother. It’s that type of experience and emotional connection that Pam “Granny” Ingram and the staff and volunteers at Granny’s House have provided to kids in Columbia for nearly 20 years. Since 2001, when Pam first started out in two public housing apartments on Trinity Place, Granny’s House has been a safe, nurturing home away from home where kids can come each day after school to see values, manners, and God’s love in action.
And yes, they even have a volunteer grandmother who bakes cookies every week, although Pam points out it’s the overall atmosphere that creates such a loving space. “Grandmothers are there to listen,” she says. “Your mother wanted to make sure she got everything right and scheduled, but your grandmothers love you. There’s nothing like your grandmother’s love.”
Building relationships and character
As a child, Pam grew up in public housing in Kansas City, part of what she describes as a family of the working poor. While there may not always have been enough food on the table or money for extracurricular activities, she was surrounded by a loving family, and trips to the nearby public library inspired her lifelong love of reading. She came to Columbia to study journalism at MU, where she met her husband, Dr. Ellis Ingram, a pathologist who is also actively involved with Granny’s House and its science programs.
Pam’s childhood experience informed her approach to helping kids when she saw a need in our community. “Having been there myself, having walked in their shoes, informs me in a way that gives me a deeper compassion and more empathy for people,” she says.
That empathy spills over into the relationships Granny’s House creates with each child who comes through its doors. “I love the fact that we never call the kids ‘clients’ or ‘youth,’” Pam says. “Kids and their families treat us like family members. We love those authentic, loving relationships with the kids.”
Granny’s House serves kids from age 4 through high school. In addition to helping with homework and being a presence in kids’ lives, Granny’s House offers enrichment programs ranging from a science academy to a princess academy. These are aligned with various “tracks” — Pam says programs like the princess academy are part of their character-building track. “We want the kids to have a strong, vital, intimate relationship with God and build character,” she says. “We have them three hours a day. We want things to happen in their hearts and lives that they can take home with them.”
The academic track at Granny’s House includes a science club, conducted in partnership with University Hospital and the MU School of Medicine. “It’s no accident that 90 percent of the kids who graduate high school and go to college choose a medical-related science major,” she says. “I think it’s because of their exposure through our science club.”
The book club, called the “Reel Life Book Club,” focuses on books with a companion movie. It’s a special way to share Pam’s love of reading. “We are trying to raise up a whole community of lovers of books and readers,” she says. “We often find books that will teach life lessons and [how to navigate] crossroads that the kids might be facing at their points in life.”
A Mosaic of Happy Kids
Thanks in part to a donation from the Veterans United Foundation, Granny’s House moved to its current location on Worley Street in 2018. The larger home allows for more space to serve kids in separate areas, as well as a safe space with a large, fenced-in yard. With two stories, the house can hold a group of elementary kids downstairs, while the high school students are upstairs.
Pam is quick to point out that the move would not have been possible without community support. “We are a grassroots organization,” she says. “Columbia is such a giving community, with a lot of places that are helping change the trajectory of kids’ lives. When people find that, they want to partner with you.”
Those partnerships with community organizations and churches have helped make possible necessary renovations and projects at the Worley Street house. “We could have never undertaken the projects we have without the broad base of community support. There is an endless list of people, groups, and churches that have helped us over these 20 years,” Pam says.
Over the past decade, Granny’s House has seen a shift in the population of kids it serves as refugee families continue to settle in Columbia. Today, the majority of kids come from refugee families. At one point, Granny’s House served kids from 12 different nations, including Thailand, Kenya, Yemen, and Iraq.
“It is a big, beautiful, happy mosaic of kids from all over the world, and I love it,” Pam says. “I love the refugee kids’ perseverance and their deep appreciation for life. There are so many beautiful things in each culture that contribute to the beautiful whole.”
Caritas Habimana is the “auntie” of the African refugee families at Granny’s House; she helps with translation and reaching out to parents. Caritas first became involved about 10 years ago when she was working with refugee families and heard of the program. “I had so many families where the parent didn’t speak English, so we connected with Granny’s House,” she says. “The kids can do their homework and be there after school.”
It’s not just for refugee kids, but also for American kids whose parents are working long hours, Caritas points out. “It’s a home for them — it’s where they get love. These kids have so much confidence in Granny, they can tell her how they’re hurting or what’s going on in their family,” Caritas says.
It’s why kids from Granny’s House go on to succeed and stay connected with the people who played such an important part in their lives. “I love it when kids go away and keep in touch,” Pam says. “At the end of the day, when the kids are 20, 30, 40, they say, ‘My time at Granny’s House was one of the happiest times in my life.’”