Happy National 2-1-1 Day! Our goal today is to share as much information as possible about this valuable resource, which everyone in our community has at their fingertips – 2-1-1 Information and Referral!
I have the privilege of being the 2-1-1 Director at United Way of Salt Lake. I coordinate the efforts of 2-1-1, Utah’s statewide information and referral system. 2-1-1 is all about making connections. Every year we connect well over 100,000 Utahns to nonprofit organizations and government agencies that have the services needed to meet people’s most basic needs; things like food, housing, and healthcare. Being connected is very powerful, and can change lives. I know, because it changed mine.
Almost exactly nine years ago today, my husband passed away leaving me with 4 children ages 1 to 10, and limited resources. As devastating as his death was to our family, even more devastating was the terror I felt not knowing how I was going to provide the most basic things for my children. I was so unsure — unsure of what we needed, unsure of who we could ask for help, unsure of what to ask for. I lived in a rural part of Ohio, and did not have access to 2-1-1 services. I made dozens of calls, and every place I called would help me a little and then send me somewhere else. It added stress to an already overwhelming and frustrating situation. It took some time, but I finally was able to discover what we needed and where to go. Being connected to the right resources helped me worry less, so I could invest my time and energy in activities that would change our circumstances. I went back to school, and worked to get both a Bachelors and Masters degree and establish a career. 2-1-1 helps arm people, like me, with the information they need to stabilize their families and take steps towards self-reliance.
Last year, the state committed $500,000 to this public/private partnership. With these funds we were able to expand 2-1-1 services in the state. We incorporated a live answer 24/7, added a chat feature on our website, and integrated a new state of the art of phone system. In addition, we were able to enhance our database of over 10,000 services and make it widely available through a searchable website. We also hired additional agents to improve the customer experience and streamline connection. Most importantly, we brought on an individual whose sole purpose is to focus on outreach; to seek out and leverage opportunities to inform the public, train agencies and organizations on how they can best use the information we maintain, and improving relationships specifically with organizations who respond in disaster situations so 2-1-1 can offer their support during emergencies.
This year, we are asking the state for $550,000 in an ongoing appropriation in order to maintain the services and processes established with the previous appropriation. In addition, we are committed to expanding our outreach and training, focusing specifically on the rural areas of our state, individuals with disabilities and the families who support and care for them, and veterans. Our goal is to help these groups become better connected and to receive the support they desperately need.
I invite all of you to experience 2-1-1 in some way. You can feel free to visit if you have time, or just pick up the phone and call 2-1-1 to get or give help. And please, email your representatives and let them know that you support this vital health and human resource!
Your voice matters and DOES make a difference!