By Jim Mullen
Posted Dec 8, 2018 at 7:30 PM
Updated Dec 8, 2018 at 7:48 PM
Right now, in Summit County, there are thousands who are struggling, but do not know where to turn for help. They may need a roof over their heads or help with a utility bill. Some have loved ones struggling with an addiction, or children who will soon go hungry. Most of us who live or work in this community understand that this kind of need exists. Too few, however know that there is already a service that can help.
United Way’s 2-1-1 service helps people across Summit County find local resources when they don’t know where to turn for help. By simply dialing 2-1-1, residents can speak to a caring professional who can provide referrals to over 10,300 different services for Summit County residents, including supplemental food and nutrition programs, substance abuse treatment, disaster services and more. People can also text “211SUMMIT” to 898-211 for help or visit 211summit.org to browse available resources.
The service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
2-1-1 became a United Way of Summit County program when our organization merged with Info Line, Inc. earlier this year. Since then, we have pledged to grow 2-1-1, to integrate it with the many programs available through United Way, and to find new ways to serve the people of our community.
United Way is steadfastly committed to the Bold Goals we announced last year. But we also recognize that to improve third grade reading scores, boost high school graduation and college/career readiness rates, financially empower working families and fight the addiction crisis, we must work to meet the basic needs in our community. A child cannot learn to read if she is going hungry. A family cannot save for the future if the parents cannot get to work. For this reason, since 2016, United Way has increased its investments in programs that meet the basic needs of Summit County residents.
Information is the first step to empowerment, and thanks to this service, anyone in our community can learn about available resources from a live person. Through 2-1-1, United Way can aid with a caller’s immediate needs, while simultaneously helping them plot a path to overcome their long-term challenges as well.
For example, those who call 2-1-1 for nutritional assistance can also schedule a free appointment with a financial coach at the Akron Financial Empowerment Center who will help them create and maintain a monthly budget. Callers who need help with a utility bill can also sign up for free tax prep services through United Way’s VITA program. In this way, 2-1-1 and United Way are more than a single touch point — they are a continuous support system that can accompany a person or a family through every step of their journey to empowerment and independence.
Just as important, 2-1-1 is a vital source of data that will help United Way understand and track the changing needs of our community. This data — which includes everything from real-time statistics to heat maps on community needs — will shape United Way’s mission going forward, even beyond our Bold Goals by 2025. It will ensure that we can continue to develop our programs in ways that respond to the real issues faced by children and families in Greater Akron.
2-1-1 is a vital component of the safety net in Summit County, and United Way is dedicated to investing in it so that everyone can connect with a caring professional, regardless of who they are or what their technological limitations may be. We want 2-1-1 to be the first place people turn to in a time of need. When you or someone you know needs help, I hope you will remember that 2-1-1 is always there to answer the call.
Mullen is president and chief executive of United Way of Summit County.