Alumni Spotlight - E.M. Branch & Associates
On Chicago’s south side, private behavioral healthcare practice E.M. Branch & Associates is a business built on family. Its mission is rooted within its Founder and CEO Brenda Thompson’s family’s experience in Chicago.
“My mother came from the South and was very proud,” said Brenda. “She was a single mother of six kids and didn’t have a formal education. But that didn’t stop her from taking people in who needed help – feeding everybody, helping everybody, whatever they needed.”
Thompson’s mother and namesake of the practice, Eddie Mae Branch Carter, moved to the south side of Chicago at a time when the city was very segregated. Thompson says the lessons she learned from her mother growing up are part of what drove her to social work, even if she wasn’t entirely sure what that meant at the time.
“Because we were on public assistance, in those days, they had case managers who came in and you had to defend your need for financial support. It was a very demeaning process,” she said. “So I knew that when I grew up I wanted to help people. I didn’t know what social work was, I had never heard of social work, but I knew that I never wanted anybody to be treated the way my mother was.”
Influenced by LUC
Thompson graduated from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Social Work in 1982 and started an individual practice in 1988. In 2001, Brenda’s daughter Nikia Thompson-Sledge also graduated with her MSW from Loyola and joined what was now known as E.M. Branch & Associates, Inc.
“I kind of fell into my mother’s path with some resistance,” Nikia laughed. “But eventually I bought into the mission and vision of who my grandmother is, who my mother is, and the standards they’ve set. They’ve always been fighters for their community. As I matured and progressed, I discovered that this is my life’s work, this is my life’s mission. I get so much more from helping others than I could have ever imagined.”
Both Thompson and Thompson-Sledge said the School of Social Work’s clinical focus was key for each of their development as mental healthcare workers and laid the foundation for how they operate their clinic.
“It is one of my proudest accomplishments in my career, being a Loyola alum,” said Nikia, who now serves as Branch’s Chief Operating Officer. “When I drive past the building, I still feel connected to the school. The foundation of our professional development was established at Loyola University Chicago.”
Foundation Built on Family
And while their experiences at Loyola’s School of Social Work certainly helped shape E.M. Branch into what it is today, the foundational tenets of the clinic have to be credited to its namesake.
“For a lot of the work we do, yes clinical experience matters, and the education you receive matters, but a lot of times, that passion that is instilled in you from your family is what really has to drive you. And that’s why we do what we do,” said Nikia.
Eddie Mae Branch maxims like “You can do anything you want as long as you work hard and put your mind to it” and “whatever you do, always do your best” have helped the center grow to serve more than 1500 individuals and families a year for a variety of services. Those include individual, couples, and family counseling, crisis intervention, community organization, and more.
“One of the things I learned from traveling abroad in Africa, as African American people, we have lost our sense of community. It is critical that we re-establish our roots in the U.S.,” said Brenda. “And many of the services we offer reflect that.”
E.M. Branch & Associates continues to thrive at its south side location in the Beverly/Morgan Park community. Now with 28 employees between its staff and independent contractors, the practice remains dedicated to the values instilled by Eddie Mae. Those values led Brenda, Nikia, and Brenda’s niece Jasmika Cook further down the path of service. In 2002, the three founded The Branch Family Institute, a nonprofit serving low-income families.
And just as Branch continues to thrive, so do the women who run it. Nikia earned her Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and Brenda will be completing her own doctorate in International Psychology this year from the same institution.