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The Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership is a coordinating body that brings partners together to ensure community members have the access, opportunities, and resources needed to thrive.

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Pontiac Proud: Eisha Branner—Founder & CEO of E-Community Outreach Services

“If not me, then who?”

Eisha Branner, Founder & CEO, E-Community Outreach Services

Eisha Branner recalls the freedom and safety she felt growing up in Pontiac, walking with her friends from one side of town to the other. “It was really family-oriented then,” she shares. “Lots of activities at the libraries, sports programs. In fact, I was one of the first group of Power Company Kids mentored by Pastor John Gunn, who taught us that we were amazing and that we could be leaders, regardless of our life circumstances. My mother was struggling with addiction at that time, and so Pastor Gunn’s message was transformative.”

She continued with the Power Company Kids program until her early teens and then began working with Gordie Lindsy of Providence Youth Outreach, who mentored kids in the area through basketball. “It really opened my eyes, because we traveled for games, and so I was able to see myself — and what my life might be like — outside of Pontiac,” Eisha remembers. “In fact, I could even go to college! And so I credit him with inspiring me to pursue my degrees.”

Ms. Branner’s husband at the time was serving time in prison, and so after graduating from Pontiac Central in 2002, she was inspired to pursue her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice in order to support folks who were rejoining the community after being released from prison. It wasn’t the right fit, so she decided to continue her studies and achieved her Master’s in Human Services. “When my ex-husband was released, he opened up a fitness business,” she recalls. “Now, I wasn’t really into fitness, myself, but I was into mentoring — specifically, incorporating my ex-husband’s experiences into a program to help young boys. At least, that’s how it started! But I found that I had a real passion and talent for case management. Lots of families would come to the program and they needed help or support, and this stuff was often already offered in the community! I had used many of these services myself as I was raising my daughters, and I knew how hard it was to find out what was available and to get the support I needed. So that really planted the seed for what is now E-Community Outreach Services.”

Beginning in 2016, Eisha joined the Oakland County Sheriff’s PAL program, which enabled her career in community service to really take off. “I loved it because it felt like I was getting paid to do what I would do for free,” she exclaims. “The program is really geared around sports, and mentoring kids, plus connecting them and their families to available resources in the community. After a few years, I became their community outreach person, which helped me continue to hone my skills. I loved that work, but I started to feel a bit inhibited, you know? Like, I knew we needed to get into homes, that it wasn’t enough to go pick up kids and provide them with mentoring and growth opportunities, especially when they didn’t have enough food at home. It felt like we were putting a bandage on the real issues facing our community, and I wanted to do more.”

So in 2019, Ms. Branner founded E-Community Outreach Services — just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. “The need only increased, and we were just starting out as an organization,” Eisha shares. “We had to do everything virtual, but we did it. We launched five youth programs and a program for parents, and we got it going. See, for me, that’s what it’s all about: Take the difficulties in my life and transform them. We don’t have time to sit in the mess, we need to get things done!”

During the pandemic, she experienced major personal changes, too — going through a divorce, which inspired her to do some serious soul-searching. “I’m very faithful, and so I asked God for direction: It seems like you’re taking everything away from me, is this necessary? What do you want me to do?” she remembers. “One day, I heard a voice, pushing me to get a building. To take that next step. But what kind of building? What would I focus on? A youth center? And, again, God inspired me: A parent’s empowerment center. You know, Pontiac is very prideful and there are a lot of resources available to us, but we’re really ashamed to ask. And we need to change that. There are so many great organizations here that are trying to do good work, but it doesn’t seem like the money reaches the people who need it the most. So that’s where we come in.”

E-Community Outreach Services focuses on high-priority issues in the area, offers a drop-in center for parents, and has created a wrap-around approach to connecting families with other non-profit partners in the community. “Honestly, I think that sometimes I step on people’s toes because I’m trying to get so much done — but it’s nothing personal,” Eisha laughs. “I mean, if I’m stepping on your toes, then it might mean that you need to get out of the way — but in a good way! We’re all learning how to collaborate better, and I know that the work I’m doing, even when people think I’m being pushy, is focused on my families. I mean, I’m on assignment! This isn’t about me, this is about the work that God has planned for me.”

Since opening E-Community Outreach services, Ms. Branner has continued to expand the scope and services available. “Our advisors help connect families to services, but we also offer a family membership store, which is set up like a traditional store and gives families the opportunity to get diapers, clothes, and other supplies in an environment that helps them maintain their dignity,” Eisha explains. “A year after we opened, we set up a youth empowerment center next door, which partners with businesses and nonprofits in Pontiac to offer a leadership program, resources, events, career advice — anything we can to help our young people create a sustainable life for themselves.”

Looking toward the future, Eisha is working on a few different projects that continue to build upon her commitment to mentoring in her community. “First, I’m working on a book, a memoir, about my own life, and how I transformed my own personal pain and struggles into success,” she shares. “It’s also about how to build an organization, lessons I’ve learned while establishing and growing a nonprofit. I want to inspire other members of our community to step up and help us reinvigorate Pontiac. This is work that we should be doing for ourselves! We don’t need outsiders, who are coming in and benefiting from our pain, our trauma. There is a real opportunity for us to transform ourselves personally while we’re also transforming our community.”

Eisha’s deep love for Pontiac is rooted in the recognition that she is who she is because of the city’s struggles. “One of the reasons we’ve been so successful is that me, our team, we’ve all been there, we’re all people who, at one time or another, needed the services that we now provide,” she explains. “But as a city, as a community, we do ask for more, we do demand more from ourselves, and that’s what’s beautiful about us! We know that we deserve more, and we’re building relationships in the community to help each other thrive. Honestly, my ultimate goal with E-Community Outreach Services is for us to go out of business — seriously! I want to work across the community to solve many of these root issues and find solutions to the obstacles holding my community back. We’re excited to help create an infrastructure that enables our neighbors to help themselves, to have equitable access to opportunity, to get the resources they need to take themselves to the next level.”

Regarding Pontiac’s youth today, Ms. Branner is laser-focused in her advice. “Take your education seriously. Period. No matter the circumstances, no matter what’s going on at home, do not give up,” she counsels. “I didn’t actually need a Master’s degree to do the work that I’m doing now, but it demonstrates my discipline, my commitment to myself, and shows others that I’m dedicated to lifelong learning. Always feed your mind — you are never too old to learn! But most importantly: Be fearless, and be yourself. No matter what.”