Editor's note: This is part of a special section on Columbia's kids. Read more here.
COLUMBIA — Kiona Hughes, a 16-year-old sophomore at Hickman High School, wore a bow in her hair, a headband, earrings, a scarf, a watch and about nine bracelets on her wrists.
"This is nothing compared to what I wear to school," Kiona said. "This is because I was rushing earlier."
The bracelets include three or four made from braided, colorful strips of bandanas, and it's a marketing strategy for her to wear them constantly — except when she's playing basketball for the Kewpies' junior varsity team.
"I always make sure I put a Wacky Bandz on," Kiona said.
Wacky Bandz raised almost $200 for charity in an MU sorority challenge that ended in October and helped fund Kiona's mission trip to Jamaica to build a house last June.
The Crossing, Kiona's church, sponsored three Granny's House kids for the trip.
Granny's House is a faith-based nonprofit founded by Pamela Ingram that operates out of two public housing units in the Douglass Park Housing Project. Ingram, who the kids call "Granny Pam," grew up in Kansas City public housing and said she created Granny's House to be "a lighthouse in public housing."
"A lot of the kids have to shoulder burdens that maybe adults would have trouble shouldering," Ingram said. "But they're bright. They are hungry for help. They are hungry to be affirmed, to have somebody open the window and show them there's more to life."
Each day after school, about 40 kids come for food, homework help and groups like Experiencing God in Real Life Situations, a Bible study for girls that Kiona goes to every Friday. Kiona has been in Columbia for six years and has been going to Granny's House for five of them.
"This is her home away from home," Ingram said.
Kiona started selling Wacky Bandz at West Junior High School in May, when Granny's House program coordinator Angie Azzani told her she needed to raise $200 as spending money for the mission trip.
A friend of Kiona's had been selling bandana bracelets to save up for an iPhone, and she taught Kiona how to make them. Kiona hadn't wanted to compete with the girl's business at school, but when she suddenly needed $200 and students offered to buy them, she changed her mind.
To avoid conflict, Kiona gave half of her first week's profits to her friend.
Kiona sold the bracelets for $2 each—the other girl's were $5—and once the news spread, she made $400 in two weeks.
With more than enough for the mission trip, Kiona stopped making bracelets until mid-September, when Ingram suggested she sell them to MU sororities.
Kiona initially wanted to give back a percentage of the sales to Granny's House, but Kristen Donnell, a Granny's House volunteer and MU senior in Alpha Chi Omega, said sororities would be more motivated if the money went to their philanthropies.
Kiona proposed 50 percent of the profits, but Ingram thought that was too high for the time it would take, and they settled on 75 cents for each $3 bracelet.
"Kiona just has such a pure servant's heart," Ingram said.
Kiona visited the sorority houses during their weekly dinner-speaks to pitch the philanthropy challenge and sell her bracelets. Although she had around 150 bracelets to begin with, the favorites ran out quickly, and then she started taking custom orders for Wacky Bandz in sorority colors.
Determined to finish before basketball season, she set Halloween weekend as the deadline, and on the morning of Oct. 30, presented a check for $195.50 to the Alpha Chi Omega sorority for buying 118 of the 256 bracelets sold. The money went to True North, a local shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
It was Ingram's idea to present an oversized check. Ingram also helped Kiona come up with the Wacky Bandz name, and she designed Kiona's business card.
"I don't think it would have happened without Granny Pam pushing me to do it," Kiona said.
When it's not basketball season, Kiona visits the office nearly every day, and all of her closest relationships are at Granny's House, often with volunteers. Last year, Kiona built a volunteer board to welcome new volunteers and provide them with information like Ingram's phone number and upcoming events.
"We need help with cleaning or whatever," Ingram said. "She just wants to help. She loves Granny's House. It's like her lifeline, in a way."
Although torn between interests in business and radiology, Kiona has told Ingram she would love to direct the organization one day.
"Since I've been going to Granny’s House, I’ve wanted to do social work," Kiona said. "I want to do something Granny Pam has done. Hopefully, I can do it at Granny’s House."
Ingram is all for it.
"If ever there's a kid who could do it, she could," Ingram said.