Improving lives, inspiring others

Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, honored for 18 years of community service

April 18, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

During her 18 years as executive director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, Andrea Ingram has worked to expand its offerings, adding a cold-weather shelter, creating a mobile crisis team and - perhaps most significantly - overseeing a major expansion of the facility.

For those efforts, Ingram will be honored tomorrow night with a dinner and the 2007 Making a Difference for Women Award from Soroptimist International of Howard County, a service organization of professional women.

"We had quite a few nominees, and it was a close competition," said Patricia Wagner, chairwoman of the Soroptimist committee in charge of the award. "There were some incredible women."

The judges were looking for a Howard County woman who has improved the lives of women and has served as an inspiration, she said. In addition to the dinner, Ingram will receive $250 for Grassroots.

"It's nice to be recognized for what you do," Ingram said, sitting in the center's temporary offices in a county-owned house in Jessup. "But it's not necessary."

Soroptimist is an international organization that was founded in 1921. The Howard County chapter is more than 50 years old and has 25 to 30 members, said member Karen Trennepohl.

"We're small but mighty," she said.

So is Ingram, who remains enthusiastic about her work after so many years. "I like what I'm doing," she said. "There's plenty more to be done."

Ingram and other members of the Grassroots staff have been working out of the Jessup location since November and expect to stay through the end of the year while the Grassroots center, next to Atholton High School, is expanded to nearly triple its size, from 8,500 square feet to 25,000 square feet and from 32 to 55 beds.

That expansion represents nearly 10 years of planning and is an important part of Ingram's mission of bringing professional-level social services and shelter to anyone in Howard County in need of assistance.

Grassroots, a nonprofit crisis intervention center founded in 1969, provides a range of services, including walk-in counseling, a 24-hour crisis hot line, community education and a mobile crisis team, a group that accompanies police to accidents, injuries or conflicts and provides social service assistance. The center also offers shelter and other services ranging from legal advice to children's activities.

Ingram grew up in New Jersey and earned a bachelor's degree in special education in 1971 and a master's in social work, both from the University of Maryland, College Park.

She settled in Howard County and took a job with the Montgomery County Community Crisis Center, working there for 11 years, first as a crisis intervention counselor and the last four years as director.

She was not looking for another job, she said, but she noticed on three occasions that Grassroots was seeking an executive director. "It almost felt like it was a message to me," she said. "I know it sounds a little strange, but it was almost like it was calling."

With three children in Howard County schools, Ingram liked the idea of working closer to home. "I took the leap, took a huge pay cut," she said.

At that time, 18 years ago, Grassroots was more of a crisis hot line than anything else, Ingram said. The facility on Freetown Road had just opened, and most of the helpers were volunteers.

From the start, Ingram's goals were to create a staff of professionals and to expand services so that everybody who needs help would be served. Now, Grassroots has 60 full-time and part-time staff members, she said.

The accomplishment of which she is most proud is helping to start a mobile crisis team five years ago, in partnership with Humanim, a nonprofit service agency. Last year, the team responded to nearly 400 calls, she said.

About half originated from police and half were from individuals or families who needed help.

Four years ago, Grassroots added a cold-weather shelter service, in partnership with local churches and synagogues. It served 95 people this winter, Ingram said, adding that about 20 percent had been served by Grassroots in previous years.

She is also working with the Elkridge Food Bank, providing a social worker two Fridays a month, starting in June. "It's really bringing the services to the people," she said.

Though meeting people in the community is an important goal, so is expanding the facility, she said. The shelter sees a wide range of people, she said, including young mothers, often with several children; drug addicts; and people who lost their jobs and homes because of medical problems. Some are young people who can't or won't find jobs and are kicked out of their parents' homes, she said.

In addition to more beds, the new facility will have an activity room, a kitchen and more counseling space. "We're just going to have a much better facility all around for everything we do," she said.

During construction, the homeless shelter has been moved to a two-story cottage on the grounds of the former Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City, and the offices are in the Jessup home.

Eager as she is to move into the expanded site, Ingram said she will miss the family of deer that visits the Jessup location. A nurturer through and through, she likes to see them eat.

"They come around 11:30 for brunch," she said. "It's a very sweet moment when you can look out and see the deer."

Soroptimist International of Howard County will honor Andrea Ingram with the 2007 Women Making a Difference Award tomorrow. The dinner, at That's Amore, 10400 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, is to start at 6:15 p.m. The cost is $27.50. Information or registration: 410- 750-9413.

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