Feb. 11 marks the 14th anniversary of National 211 Day. The day is recognized every year and was designated by United Way Worldwide to draw attention to services available through 211 information and referral centers throughout the country.
The 211 movement was prompted by a need to decrease confusion about who to call for help and promote efficiency and coordination. In this age of vast information, finding the right resource at the right time has become more challenging than ever due to content overload. This easy-to-remember number saves time and frustration by eliminating the need for callers to navigate a maze of agencies and help-lines.
Currently, more than 246 million Americans can seek help by dialing 211, with coverage in all 50 states. In 2011, more than 115,000 Utahns called United Way 211, a program of United Way of Salt Lake and United Way of Utah County, seeking assistance.
United Way 211 directs people looking for resources to help them face life challenges, often for the first time, to the appropriate service provider. Information specialists field calls from people who have lost their jobs, who are underinsured or who face foreclosure on their home — among others. 211 is a resource for everyday questions like, "How do I choose a daycare for my child?" or "Are there resources that can help my elderly parents stay in their home?" United Way 211's database is filled with thousands of referrals and details on the best way to access services.
Recently, a resident of Salt Lake County contacted United Way 211 with a request for information via email. She had been laid off and was not finding success securing another job. "I don't know who to talk to or what to do, but me and my kids are in serious need. … Everything that could go wrong for us, has. I really believe that I am a good single mother to three wonderful boys, ages 13, 10 and 7, and they deserve some help." She went on to say that they would soon be homeless and ended by saying, "Please help me! I don't know what to do. I need a miracle. Please be it."
The United Way 211 program was able to connect her to several resources including: two locations that assist with rent, a program that assists near-homeless single mothers with housing and job search assistance, local food pantries and a utilities-assistance program. She became connected to resources well beyond her original question.
Not only is the 211 program vital for the residents of Utah for everyday issues, it also plays a critical role in the event of a disaster. People need a simple solution to answer serious questions such as: "Where do I find water, shelter or food assistance?" Dial 211. "Where can I volunteer?" Dial 211. It's easy, fast and effective.
Knowing where to go to volunteer in the event of a disaster is important, but what about volunteering on a day to day basis? Individuals, families, corporate and religious groups throughout Utah can simply dial 211 to get connected to local volunteer opportunities.
United Way is committed to ensuring that people get connected and get answers. With the services provided by 211, there is no longer a wrong number when seeking to find or give help. 211 is a single, simple starting point to connect people to the right information the first time.
Craig Wagstaff is Senior Vice President of Questar Gas Company, a member United Way of Salt Lake's Board of Directors and chair of the United Way 211 Steering Council.