Jen Ledbetter, pictured, is among the community care advocates helping the public through United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 program.

Jen Ledbetter, pictured, is among the community care advocates helping the public through United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 program.

Photo provided by Jerome Espy


United Way raises awareness of assistance through its 2-1-1 program

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published February 20, 2021

 The United Way for Southeastern Michigan is recognizing its employees and volunteers taking part in its 2-1-1 program, which helps connect the public to local resources and assistance.

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan is recognizing its employees and volunteers taking part in its 2-1-1 program, which helps connect the public to local resources and assistance.

Photo provided by Jerome Espy

METRO DETROIT — When in personal or financial trouble, getting help can be difficult — even more so when you don’t know where to look.

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan honored its employees and volunteers in its 2-1-1 assistance program Feb. 11. Telephoning 2-1-1 allows individuals searching for help to find financial assistance, medical aid or other local resources.

“We have a database of over 10,000 partners who we connect people with every day. It’s a 24/7 service,” said Director of 2-1-1 Operations Pamela Bolden. “There are caring, empathetic and loving people answering those phones. We care about getting them the resources that they need. We listen to them when they call 2-1-1 with questions. They might need housing, daycare, utility assistance. We make sure they get all the referrals they need and give them an experience where they are treated with respect regardless of their circumstance.”

The program can be reached by calling 2-1-1 or (800) 552-1183. More information on it is available at www.unitedway sem.org/get-help.

Anita Willis, one of the community care advocates who answers these calls, said people from all over the Detroit area call them with everything from minor questions to looking for lifesaving programs.

“What we do is we do information and referrals,” she explained. “We look at your ZIP code and we see who is in your area that can help you. Right now a lot of information is for utility assistance, if they have a shut-off or are past due. People call looking for food pantries, especially with kids not at school where they can get some of their meals there. We see a lot of calls about the COVID vaccines or for tax preparation.”

2-1-1 Day was something The United Way for Southeastern Michigan wanted to do to both raise the public’s awareness of the program and to recognize the hard work of those who provide it.

“It is a day that we highlight that we work with the community to provide resources while they are in a crisis, such as food, shelter and utility assistance from our partners,” said Bolden. “It is a day to honor all the people who work on the front line within 2-1-1, and we are honoring their leadership today and promote it to let people know it is there and the work we do is valuable. The more people who know about it, the more people we can serve, and the more people we can bring in to help.”

Bolden said that the 2-1-1 service has been even more important for people during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Usually our call volume is about 500 calls on upsurge days, such as when an announcement is made, such as one about public health. It is now as high as 1,400 during COVID on upsurge days. Managing COVID concerns is a major effort for us now,” she said. “With the need of vaccines, 2-1-1 is playing a role in trying to assist and get information out there for people. People just need to know that we’re here and that we want to serve.”

Toni Kelly, a client from Detroit, said 2-1-1 was a lifesaver for her after she had difficulty paying her gas bill.

“I was unable to pay my gas bill, so I called 2-1-1 for help. They put me in touch with a group called (Low Income Self Sufficiency Plan) who took part with my bill. The woman I spoke to, Jennifer Ledbetter, didn’t talk down to me or judge me for not being able to pay. I was trying to get on that program for two years, and she handled it in five minutes. I’m a senior on Social Security, so I don’t have a lot of money, so this meant a lot to me.”

Kelly added that what made the program work so well was not only the services that she was referred to, but also the fast and friendly manner in which it was done.

“This is a program that really helps you. They don’t just make you promises or lie. As long as you pay your bill every month after that, you will have no more problems,” she said. “These people care. That is a hard thing to find. I pray for them and am thankful for them every day.”

Willis said she is glad to hear feedback like that from Kelly. She considers being a calming and friendly voice during turbulent times in people’s lives one of the most important parts of her job.

“I feel like we are here to listen to people, because sometimes they just need someone to talk to or vent to, and then give them the information they need so they can go on with their lives,” said Willis. “We may not solve all of their issues, but at least we can give them some care, help and hope.”

She said a lot of her clients are senior citizens who just need some assistance navigating what are often complicated or convoluted processes to get aid.

“The thing that I have in my mind that I think of a lot are the seniors who are calling for the vaccine,” she said. “They are not all able to maneuver the online databases, or get frustrated with the phone lines. I help them with the forms and that is something you get a lot of gratitude for. Calls like that really touch you, and most people I speak to are so grateful.”

Willis said she is happy to see her hard work and the hard work of her fellow community care advocates recognized, and she hopes it will encourage others to use them as a helpful resource.

“I think it’s a team effort; from the top to the resource team to our operators,” she remarked. “It’s a very family-like attitude at United Way, and we really are united.”