Spring has arrived at Granny’s House. Kids threw footballs and ran around outside on Thursday afternoon. Granny’s House is a non-profit, supported by Columbia churches and businesses that provides a safe space for children who live in public housing from 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Pam Ingram and her husband Ellis, who are also known by “Granny” and “Poppy,” have run the program for 14 years. In addition to the after school program, the Ingrams coordinate other activities for the kids, like Science Club and Bible study.
Ellis Ingram said the location of Granny’s House helps them best serve the community.
“These two apartments are right in the heart of public housing,” he said. “From the outside it looks just like one of the other units, so the kids are coming in and out all the time from their door into ours.”
MU student Blake Youngdahl volunteers at Granny’s House. He said the convenient location is important for the kids.
“Despite what happens outside these doors, this is a safe place,” Youngdahl said. "I think that’s very important for the kids to have and to know that they can come here."
Deena, a sixth-grader, said she comes to Granny’s House every day.
“Granny’s House is a great place,” she said. “You get to laugh, play, you get to enjoy it, it’s like home to you.”
Volunteers, from churches and the University of Missouri, support all of Granny’s House’s programming. Deena said that without the volunteers, Granny’s House wouldn’t be as fun.
“We have an army of service learning students who come every semester, anywhere from 20 to 30 or 40 every semester,” Pam Ingram said. “They serve as role models. After all, our mission is to model the unconditional love of God. So, every person that comes here, they are used to reflect the kindness and mercy of God to the kids.”
Over the years, the Ingrams have encountered changes in the neighborhood. About eight years ago, the number of African immigrants in the housing development increased. Pam Ingram said even though it was a challenge for her and the volunteers to adapt, it’s been a good learning experience.
“I think it’s a rich environment for university students to be immersed in to learn about different cultures,” Pam Ingram said.
Drew Hensel, a senior pre-med student at MU, helped Habi, a fourth grader, with his homework. While Habi read a passage about Burmese Pythons, Hensel encouraged him to sound out the words.
Hensel said volunteering at Granny’s House and engaging with the kids changed his perspective.
“I think as a medical student, for a long time I’ve really said, ‘Med school, med school, med school,’ and I have sometimes lost sight of the fact that I can have a positive impact on those around me without having an M.D. behind my name,” he said. “I believe that I have learned that being a student is about bettering yourself and those around you.”
For other volunteers, the experience has made them reconsider their future career goals. Sydney Hamilton, an elementary education major at MU, said she originally thought she wanted to work at a school in the suburbs, but now she’s reconsidering.
“This is making me really lean towards more like working in a place with underprivileged students because I feel like I can make a bigger impact,” she said. “These kids are just so loving and wonderful, I’d love to work with them someday.”
Hamilton and Hensel said they are grateful for the opportunity to connect to the Columbia community outside the university.
“I’m going to stay here for four more years as a medical student, so I want to expand beyond Mizzou’s campus because there are people around here who just have a different way of life,” Hensel said. “Granny’s House is a cool dichotomy of an African American population and an African population and I’ve learned a lot about the differences between those two groups.”
Pam Ingram said that the relationships built at Granny’s House are the most valuable part of the program.
“It’s just really sweet to have those long-term relationships and you remember the starting point,” she said. “It’s just like watching grass grow, but the grass is growing.”