Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hooper: After 30 years, Brandon's ECHO looks to extend its community connections Hooper:

BRANDON

They arrive in need, searching for a single lifeline and hoping to hold on to what is left of the figurative end of the rope.

Even though they may be facing eviction, in need of clothes or searching for work, their requests start simply: food, simple sustenance for a few days, maybe a week.

And if the Emergency Care Help Organization simply offered just that, its work would deserve magnanimous praise.

However, ECHO does so much more. It looks to pull up on that rope. It tells those deserving residents to hold on and then pulls them into its vessel of care that features an array of services, all aimed at taking the person from hopelessness to self-sufficiency."

"Our folks are people who are desperate," ECHO executive director Eleanor Saunders said. "These people are in crisis. It's not just they need a little bit of food. These people are hurting. I'm just so glad that we get to be people who help them."

ECHO has stood as Brandon's representative organization for those in need since 1987. It's the place schools, social workers and neighbors refer to when someone is struggling with basic needs. With multiple programs and a burgeoning resource guide, it manages to steer people to a path of success.

"This is where they actually start the journey," said ECHO development director Michele Pruitt. "This is where they can actually get to a place where they're not in crisis.

"More often than not, when you come here, you actually leave with the things you need for that crisis, but you also leave here with hope and direction. Your mind is able to be settled so you can begin to think straight and figure out the next path."

As it prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary with ECHO After Hours, a special event on Sept. 7, the nonprofit is charting its next steps while celebrating how its staff, volunteers and donors have helped lift people out of despair.

Those who arrive at the ECHO headquarters at 507 N Parsons Ave. will find a building sporting a fresh paint job, new signage, decorative mural and bold new logo. The green and white emblem features a fork fused to look like a tree, leaves growing from its branches.

"The immediate need is food, that's symbolized by the fork," Saunders said. "We reach that immediate need, but then we offer growth by providing opportunities for people to provide for themselves. Out of that immediate food we hope comes growth, not just a band-aid so you're not hungry for a week.

"We want to get you in a position where you hunger no more."

Despite its persistent presence in the community, ECHO officials are striving to raise awareness and expand its network of supporters. Saunders and Pruitt are convinced that each time it shares the varied efforts of the nonprofit, it can win over new converts. Chances are they'll be preaching to the choir for many of those who come to ECHO After Dark.

But they need to make the choir bigger. So along with saluting longtime board member Vince Ferraro, providing network opportunities and feting guests with food and drinks, ECHO After Dark will include fast-paced tours of its building, showcasing the different programs and sharing the stories of volunteers who lift up others and receive a personal boost at the same time.

As for its future, ECHO wants to continue serving more people. It's helped with more than 200,000 during its existence, but wants to expand both its services and the legions of needy it helps.

"One of our goals for the future is to grow beyond our borders, because we're spilling over right now in the physical building that we're in, but also in what we're capable of doing," Pruitt said. "We want to expand beyond the 15 zip codes we serve. We're able, we just need to get more partnerships."

Saunders said the organization is particularly interested in creating a second location in the SouthShore area, where it's already helping a number of needy folks.

"There's more people to reach, more people to help," Saunders said.

To extend the mission, Saunders said people need to realize their dollars aren't going to the sweet, little, local nonprofit. ECHO offers job training, GED tutoring, counseling and its own social entrepreneur effort in ECHO Handmade, a craft enterprise.

Plus, it will stage one of the area's top job fairs on Sept. 14.

In the end, it longs to elevate more lives. Clearly, they need more lifelines and more rope to pull people on to its vessel of hope. After 30 years, it really needs a bigger vessel.

That's all I'm saying.

 
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