When life is on the line

Date: January 11, 2019

Last year, a single, working mother called the 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline when she found herself facing eviction. She got help through United Way’s Shelter Diversion program, and her family was able to stay together in their home.

The same program also helped another single mom and her kids move out of a homeless shelter and into furnished, affordable housing within 30 days of calling 2-1-1. In addition, it provided her with valuable job assistance that helped her land a full-time position.

These are success stories Ann Johnson, a 2-1-1 information and referral specialist, is proud to have a hand in. Johnson joined 2-1-1 Maryland on February 11, 2013, a date that stands out in her memory because all United Way 2-1-1 call centers across the country celebrate the day (2/11) nationally

2-1-1 Maryland is a free, confidential helpline available 24/7 all year long, fielding 500-800 calls a day, and is staffed by trained employees—many of them licensed social workers.

“We connect people to any health or human services they might need, from food and shelter to legal resources, abuse intervention and child care,” Johnson said. “Some of our resources are specifically targeted to groups like veterans, senior citizens, families with young children or those with specific health conditions. People can also call to find out about volunteer work opportunities, where to donate furniture, who their elected officials are and how to register to vote.

As an information and referral specialist, Johnson’s job is to listen to callers, assess their needs and put them in touch with the most appropriate resources.

“Our aim is to make it clear that our service is safe, confidential and nonjudgmental,” she explained. “We ask how we can help them and try to learn as much as we can about their background and needs.”

For example, Johnson recently helped a veteran obtain a bus pass so he could get to interviews as part of a job training program. She also helped a European immigrant with health issues overcome a language barrier to keep her electricity on after difficulties communicating with the utility company.

The work isn’t always easy. When callers are in a vulnerable position, Johnson and her colleagues can directly loop in emergency services like 9-1-1, domestic violence hotlines or mental health support. United Way then generates anonymous records for the calls, providing valuable data that helps the organization continually improve the way it helps people.

As a direct connection for callers, 2-1-1 employees gain a unique frontline perspective on the needs of their local community.

“We have a thorough understanding of trending and ongoing situations, and we know firsthand how critical the work of United Way really is,” Johnson said. “The organization is always seeking innovative ways to improve lives by connecting local residents, government officials and resources. 2-1-1 connects those dots. There are often resources out there that people had no idea even existed. It’s so rewarding to be able to put those people in touch with the help they need.”

Last year, more than 112,000 people called 2-1-1 for help. You can help support this life-saving, life-changing service with a gift today. Donate now to this critical line of communication.

This post was produced by Studio 1847 on behalf of United Way

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For more than 90 years, United Way of Central Maryland has been improving lives in the communities it serves: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County, Maryland.

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