In 1989, Andrea Ingram took a big cut in both pay and prestige to leave her job as director of Montgomery County's Crisis Center for a similar job in Howard County.
Twenty-five years later, neither she nor Howard County has regretted the decision.
Ingram was able to work in the county where she and her family lived, which allowed her to deepen her roots here and to be around more for her three young children, and to fight at a more elemental level for causes dear to her heart.
As for Howard County, it gained an experienced, dedicated hand who transformed its crisis services from minimal to first-rate, and along the way won a reputation as a fierce, effective advocate for the down and out.
At a reception at Howard Community College on Friday, Sept. 5, Ingram will be honored for her quarter-century of service as executive director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention, the nonprofit organization that includes the county's only homeless shelter and a variety of other services.
While no stranger to awards and honors – she was given the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Award in 2003 and inducted into the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame in 2004, among other honors – Ingram is a bit wary of the to-do over her service.
"It's very sweet and it's very nice," she said in a recent interview in her Columbia office. "But I'm the middle of seven children, and middle children thrive by being in the background."
Nobody else who knows Ingram and her work is anything but elated with the recognition.
"Oh my gosh, yes," said Barbara Lawson, the former president and CEO of The Columbia Foundation, when asked if Ingram deserves the attention. "Andrea is respected statewide in terms of what she's done for the homeless in our community and the advocacy that she's provided.
"She's one of the best executive directors I've ever known," added Lawson, who works as a consultant for nonprofits. "She's a wonderful manager, compassionate, a gentle soul. … She's the perfect package for Grassroots. And she's grown it magnificently."
County Executive Ken Ulman, who grew up a few doors away from Ingram's family in Columbia and served on the Grassroots board in the early 2000s, called Ingram "a phenomenal public servant."
"Andrea Ingram is a fixture in Howard County, for so many reasons," Ulman said. "She can be counted on to always do the right thing. … She's been able to steer the Grassroots ship with a very steady hand for 25 years."
Third time's a charm
Ingram grew up in New Jersey but went to college at the University of Maryland, where she earned her bachelor's degree in special education and psychology and a master's in social work. After graduation, she went to work in 1978 as a crisis counselor in nearby Montgomery County.
"I loved it," she recalled. "I learned so much."
After six years, she was named a program manager and, a few years later, director of the Montgomery County Crisis Center.
It was a rewarding, well-paying job in a well-to-do county that offered Cadillac services. But after a few years, Ingram found herself looking at the want ads – mostly because she knew people looking for work – and saw an ad for the Grassroots job. She "made a note of it," she recalled, but did not apply.
Four months later, she saw the ad again, but again, just made a note of it. When she saw the ad a third time, however, she "felt like it was speaking to me," she said. "That sounds a little strange, I know, but I did."
She was already living in Howard County, and with all three of her children entering critical years in their schooling – one his senior year, another freshman year, the youngest first grade – the thought of working closer to home was appealing.
Ingram applied for the Grassroots job, was hired, and began work in 1989.