Community Engagement

Rising from the Ashes

Community outreach specialist uses resilience to revitalize Pontiac

Woman standing in front of a metal wall with her arms crossed

Community Outreach Specialist Canequia “Coco” Moulder is the first recipient of the OU Community Engagement Award for her work with the Oakland University/Pontiac Initiative Early Childhood Education (OUPIECE) group . (Photo Credit: James Silvestri)

icon of a calendarApril 23, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Trevor Tyle

Share this story

Once a flourishing community, Pontiac is now considered Oakland County’s poorest city, with nearly 31% of its population currently living in poverty. In spite of the challenges, those at the forefront of the city’s revitalization efforts, such as community outreach specialist Canequia “Coco” Moulder, are optimistic about its future.

Moulder oversees education and outreach at The Wellness Plan Medical Centers in Pontiac and has served as co-convener of the Oakland University/Pontiac Initiative Early Childhood Education group (OUPIECE) since 2017, following the death of Hubert Price, an outspoken advocate for early childhood education funding and support within the Pontiac community. Serving as a liaison for Oakland Primary Health Services, Moulder began working with OUPIECE in 2015 under the leadership of Price, whom she hailed as a champion for the causes he fought for. 

“He knew that, in order to start changes, it would be important to begin with school age children and their families by providing access to not only the appropriate curriculum, but he also found that many of these children were not seeing their doctors or receiving support around strengthening the family unit,” Moulder said of Price.

These findings fueled Moulder’s ambitions to provide families in Pontiac with quality health care, including dental and behavioral health. 

“Families are having to choose from putting food on the table over getting their children to the doctors,” she said. “When families come in for medical care, it is usually when things are so bad they had no choice.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 14% of Pontiac residents under the age of 65 do not have health insurance. Moulder assists many of these residents by helping them apply for health insurance and referring them to entities that will ease the process. In her current role, she has coordinated events to connect families directly to agencies, developed video resources to educate families on application procedures and community services available, and has even scheduled and transported some individuals to appointments.

“Having access to quality schools, medical care, social services and safety is so important,” she said. “These children deserve the best and only with the community agencies working collaboratively to meet these needs will this next generation have what they need.”

Additionally, Moulder has contributed to several OUPIECE projects, primarily as co-lead of the Pontiac Resilience Project, which aims to spread awareness of the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and childhood trauma, while also promoting the significance of empathy and relationship building to strengthen the resilience of the Pontiac community. Its message is based around the award-winning documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” which Moulder frequently organizes free public screenings of throughout the Pontiac community. 

Having worked as an educator in the Pontiac School District for several years, Moulder has facilitated several workshops and informational sessions about ACEs and resilience across the district for both students and staff, as well as throughout the larger community.

“Working with OUPIECE and advocating for the Pontiac community to holistically understand the impact of ACEs on young people has been the most rewarding experience,” she said. “It has truly changed my life and given me an additional passion to add to my list by helping families understand how resilient they can be and that their futures can be altered if they don’t allow adverse childhood experience to dictate their lives.”

Last year, she also served as project consultant and community liaison for the creation of the OUPIECE documentary “Pontiac Strong.” 

As a result of her work with OUPIECE, Moulder became the first recipient of the OU Community Engagement Award last year. 

“I was honored and humbled [to receive the award], to say the least,” she said. “People who do this kind of work do not do it for recognition because usually there is none — it is just the spirit of the role of community engagement.”

While the award was a milestone in Moulder’s more than two-decade career, as far as she’s concerned, her work is far from over.

“There will always be a need for change agents, for people connectors and for advocates within a community,” she said. “Pontiac is a community that is resilient and has a tremendous history of overcoming the challenges of losing General Motors and having families have to leave the city to find work ... it is a city that deserves to rise from the ashes and continue to grow.”

Share this story