Granny Pam Ingram sits in a neon-orange child-sized chair in the middle of a lawn strewn with jump ropes, four-square balls and bubble dispensers. She listens as 8-year-old Keiondre Johnson tells about a near-death experience involving his big toe. Children and volunteers jump, run, twirl and shout all over the lawn of Granny’s House, a nondenominational Christian after-school program.
But at this moment Granny Pam focuses solely on Keiondre, and she reacts to his story as if it’s the most important thing she’s ever heard.
“I was riding my bike, but I tripped and half of my toe went like this,” Keiondre says, demonstrating for Granny Pam with his finger. “If your big toe comes off, you can bleed a lot and maybe die. I was in the hospital.”
Keiondre mentions he wore the same tie to church on Easter that he wore to his grandmother’s funeral, and Granny Pam, not phased by the rapid shift in subject matter, asks if that was the first time someone he loved had died.
Keiondre nods, looking down at the lawn.
“What do you think happens to people when they die?” Granny Pam asks.
“Heaven,” Keiondre responds without hesitation, in a sing-songy voice. “Is that all white there?”
They discuss the color-scheme of heaven while controlled chaos — in the form of double-dutch, piggyback rides and laughter — continues around them.
Granny Pam tells Keiondre she has a mommy and a daddy waiting for her in heaven.
“They should really be proud of you, having this house for all these kids,” Keiondre says. Granny Pam smiles.
Granny Pam founded Granny’s House in 2001 with volunteers from Christian Fellowship Church and other area churches. They decided to name the program Granny’s House because the word “granny” fit the homey, loving ministry they were hoping to form.
Now, about 35 kids, ages 5 to 13, come to Granny’s House from 4 to 6 p.m. three times a week for snacks, games, crafts and Bible stories. The program is free for Douglass Park neighborhood kids, most of whom live in public housing. Individuals and civic groups support the program by providing Christmas presents for the kids, leading Vacation Bible School programs and sending volunteers. Area restaurants and businesses also support the ministry by donating supplies and food.
Granny Pam says the multi-denominational, multiracial nature of the ministry teaches the kids an important lesson.
“They see all of us, in our differences — doctrinal differences, racial differences — loving each other,” she says. “And then they see all of us pouring all of that love into them.”
The ministry rents a set of two adjoining apartments in the Douglass Park public housing development on Trinity Place. The apartments are colorfully decorated with Bible verses, pictures and cards drawn by the kids. In the area used for snack time, the kids’ names and their meanings are painted in bright blue paint:
Arianna “Blessed,” Ka’Keetra “Eternal Hope,” Natoya “Generous,” Antinay “Flourishing.” A border depicting children of all ages and races playing together frames the room, and Isaiah 43:1 is painted across the wall in big blue letters: “I have called you by name, you are mine ...”
Granny Jane Williams, a volunteer, says one of the great things about Granny’s House is that it forms connections among diverse groups of people. She says Granny Pam has won the hearts of the neighbors.
“She’s made it possible for a lot of people to come into public housing and meet people they would never meet,” Granny Jane says. “She’s helped open up the hearts of the people in Columbia towards the poor.”
Alicia Robertson says she is thankful to have something to keep her 10-year-old daughter, Spenser Crum, busy. “It’s a positive outlet,” Robertson says.
She says the program also helps keep kids out of trouble.
“Some of the kids in the neighborhood tend to have problems when they play together,” Robertson says. “So when they’re supervised, it’s better.”
Granny Pam says she witnesses big transformations in some of the kids, especially in how they react to conflicts.
“We’ve had kids that come like little walking volcanoes, all full of anger,” she says. “And we see their countenances and their attitudes become soft.”
Granny Pam and the other volunteers try to teach the kids how to handle their anger and how to learn to forgive each other.
“Some people just don’t have skills for forgiveness and how to work through conflict and how to express anger,” Granny Pam says. “They don’t know how to say ‘What you just said really hurt my feelings.’”
Today, Monta’nae, 7, and Santana, 8, have hurt each other’s feelings. Granny Pam threatens to send them home from the program for a week, and the girls look distraught.
Granny Pam pulls Santana into a room and talks her into forgiving Monta’nae. A small gathering of kids stares at Monta’nae while she silently waits for her turn. After a long period of negotiation, Granny Pam talks both girls into forgiving each other, and she tears up the forms she had written to send home with them. The girls pray with each other and spend the rest of the time making cards for each other that say things like: “I wish we could be friends forever.”
Granny re-enters the living room and uses the opportunity to talk to the gathered children about forgiveness.
“Well the truth of the matter is that if we don’t forgive each other, God won’t forgive us,” she says. “How many of you guys want God to forgive you?”
The kids mumble in agreement.
“You know how many times God forgives us?” she asks.
“As far as the numbers go,” a little voice says, and the others nod.
Granny Pam says she hopes the children will use the skills they are learning later when they face real-life problems.
“We just feel like if they leave Granny’s house tomorrow, they’ll be equipped with something that will help them for the rest of their lives,” she says.