- Tamara House co-founded Grant’s House, which serves school-age children and emerging adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- House has raised $3.6 million in memory of her son to provide after-school and summer programs.
- She used her skills as a home rehabber to renovate a 50,000-square foot building.
Grant House died at the age of 25, but his legacy lives on through a foundation in Lafayette, Ind., for children and young adults with special needs that would not exist without his mother, Tamara.
Losing Grant, who was born with mental and physical disabilities from a brain tumor in utero, motivated House to turn her son’s vision of helping children with special needs into a reality.
When Grant died in December 2015, his friends and family donated nearly $40,000 in his memory. The House family—Tamara, her husband Jay, and Grant’s four siblings gave the money to Wabash Center, a local nonprofit that provides supportive services for individuals with special needs.
Grant was well known at the Wabash Center, where he worked and flourished, as he “learned to lead among his peers, respect routine, and become aware of his ability to achieve his dreams,” says his sister, Maggie Jae Budreau.
The Wabash Center CEO encouraged House to use the money to jump-start an after-school and summer program, so in May 2016 House organized her first fundraiser, which generated an impressive $175,000. “Our community wrapped their hearts around the idea, and it just exploded from there,” says House, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Centerstone.
Budreau signed on as a volunteer coordinator to help the foundation get off the ground and fill an important gap in services. “The moment that kids leave school for the day, there’s a lack of resources in our community for after-school extracurriculars,” Budreau says. “Our goal was to take Grant’s inspirational attitude and spirit and make other kids feel like they’re not alone.”
Grant’s House opened its doors on August 18, 2019, in a 50,000-square-foot building that the organization remodeled from top to bottom in order to tailor the space to children with special needs. “My husband and I buy and flip properties, so the fact that we needed to gut a building was not daunting for us,” says House, who leveraged her relationships with home contractors to make the renovations. “I reached out to the vendors that I’ve worked with in the past, and every single one was gracious enough to offer their services for free or at a huge discount, which was a blessing,” she says. “The painter, the electrician, the flooring company—every single one of them knew Grant.”
“Our community wrapped their hearts around the idea, and it just exploded from there.” —Tamara House
Budreau says Grant’s presence permeates the center. “Grant loved bright colors, so we painted the walls in our gathering space in rainbow,” says Budreau. Painted on a wall in the lobby is Grant’s thumbprint with a list of donors’ names; another room displays larger-than-life photos of Grant.
House’s favorite space is the snack room—dubbed “the village” with a hand-carved tree in the center of the room that Jay and their son Ross built. Grant’s House also has rooms for art, music therapy, and reading as well as a “homework house” that provides small group and one-on-one learning.
Janelle Fleming’s son, Noah, age 8, who has autism, enjoys the center’s sensory room, which is outfitted with LED lights that wash the space in colors that help soothe children with autism. “Noah loves his time at Grant’s House,” says Fleming. “The program keeps him in a routine, and he’s made a lot of friends there, including his best friend.” Noah also attends Grant’s House summer camp, which can serve only half the previous number of kids this year because of COVID-19.
Learning Life Skills
Part of the foundation’s mission is to help young adults learn life skills, from washing laundry and cleaning dishes to cooking. Consequently, the center is equipped with a washer and dryer and a full adaptive kitchen. “Grant always dreamed of living on his own,” says House, “so we want to help people with special needs learn how to live independently.”
House says Grant lived to the fullest. Growing up he and his siblings wrote a list of their life goals every year. Grant wrote 106 goals in 2015; his 54th goal was “to wake up every day and thank God for his life,” Budreau says. “We decided, as a family, to live our lives by goal number 54.” In turn, “54” is incorporated into many aspects of the foundation, including its summer camp (“Camp 54”) and music room (“Studio 54”).
Jason McManus, Wabash Center’s president and CEO, describes House as a “tour de force.” “She has a gift for telling her story and connecting it to people, whether or not they have someone in their life with a disability,” he says. “She took a tragedy and used it to galvanize the community around a special cause.”
McManus says House is a “master fundraiser.” House, a former marketing director for RE/MAX’s first branch in Indiana, has helmed four fundraising campaigns for Grant’s House that generated $3.6 million through donations and a grant from the city.
Even the pandemic didn’t stop House from organizing the foundation’s annual “I’m Happy and I’m Alive” fundraiser in May. This year House turned the event, which is usually an all-you-can-eat fish and chicken fry party with live music, into a drive-through celebration where each driver donated $10. “At one point, traffic was stopped for six or seven city blocks,” Budreau says.
House thrives on seeing the impact that Grant’s House has on children with special needs. A case in point: One day, when a mother was dropping off her daughter to the after-school program, she told House, “This place is the best thing that’s ever happened to our family, because our daughter can’t wait to go here every day,” House recalls. “That was really special to hear.”
Her motivation to continue volunteering for the foundation is powerful. “I’m a busy real estate agent, but every day I make time for Grant’s House,” she says. “My goal is to keep Grant alive in our community.”
And House’s daughter Budreau concurs: “Losing Grant didn’t mean my mom would stop living for him,” she says. “Grant is hers forever.”