Listen Up! Help May Be As Simple As 211

211It’s almost too easy to watch television, read the newspaper, or surf the Internet where you see and hear about the pain and suffering of people in your community and around the world; it’s quite another when you actually talk to someone who opens a window into their life and asks you  if you  can help… Actually, it’s both an awesome privilege and moral responsibility.

Like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” This is something to which I can personally attest in so many ways, but especially since I began volunteering at the Wiregrass United Way 2-1-1 call center here in southeast Alabama.

2-1-1 is a nationwide service that provides free, confidential information and referral for people in need of particular services or help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and much more. You know, ordinary folks who find themselves in dire straights, like the woman who phoned in a couple of weeks ago.

I answered the call and, after providing some basic information, this lady told me simply that she needed someone to talk to for advice, for some guidance and direction. Then, of course, she elaborated on her situation and the problems she and her family were currently facing … difficulties they’d never encountered before.

She was married with two teenage children. Her husband was disabled and hadn’t been able to work. He had applied for disability but had been turned down. She still worked full-time, but things had just gotten tighter and tougher. They were doing the best they could to keep up, but she mentioned they’d fallen behind in the mortgage payments on their house.

So she needed to talk to someone, she said, just for advice … to find out what to do next. And that’s really how she expressed her need. She just needed to sit down with someone – someone qualified – to help her figure things out. She wasn’t quite sure where to go, however, but it had to be somewhere or someone inexpensive, if not free.

Well … that may seem a bit vague, but I focused in on the first significant thing she told me, namely that her husband was disabled, unable to work, and had been denied disability. Consequently, I was able to provide two resources to (hopefully) put her in touch with someone she could talk to about that specific concern.

We didn’t stop with this one need, though, and this is one of the beautiful benefits of the 2-1-1 service. We didn’t stop with her need for counsel because she’d also said something about falling behind on mortgage payments. This was not something for which she’d specifically  asked help; she’d just happened to mention mortgage payments when she was telling me about her overall situation.

So in addition to connecting her with a couple of agencies for legal counsel, I was thankfully able to also offer information about resources to address this other very real concern for her and her family… But we didn’t end here, either. I went on to ask her how she and her family were doing on other fronts, too: food, clothing, fuel, etc. You see, this is what I’ve been trained to do at 2-1-1. This is an important part of the service provided by 2-1-1 all across the country: to listen carefully and assess the needs of the caller, even those needs they may not be specifically  tackling at the moment.

Thankfully, she said they were doing alright in these areas, but then – and this had to be the best part of the call – she very genuinely thanked me and asked me again for my name. I told her, of course, and then she asked me if I was a volunteer. Naturally, I answered, “Yes…” But then came the question that kind of caught me off guard, an altogether beautiful question, really.

She asked me, “why?” She wanted to know why I had decided to volunteer my time at 211… And I was able (and privileged) to tell her that I had decided to volunteer my time quite simply because I love people and I want to help people who need help … people just like her and her family. And 2-1-1 provides me, and so many other truly wonderful folks, the opportunity to do just that: to connect people with the resources they need and can utilize in any number of areas, addressing all sorts of needs.

Evidently she appreciated this because she then wanted to talk to someone about possibly volunteering! She wanted to help people just like she’d been helped! And this is what it’s all about, really. You see, in a very real sense, the world comes in on the phone lines, live at 2-1-1 … real people talking to people who really care and are able to provide an exceptional service of which I’m very honored and truly blessed to be some small part.

2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember telephone number that, all across the country, connects hundreds of people each and every hour with important social, health and human services. Whether they (or you!) are looking for help paying a utility bill, counseling, affordable housing, food pantries or assistance with any number of other needs, 2-1-1 is an easy phone call available 24 hours a day, seven days a week … one phone call to tap into a host of available resources.

Remember 2-1-1.  It’s an easy-to-remember phone number that you, a family member, or friend may need one of these days.  If so, isn’t it nice to know you can pick up the phone, dial 2-1-1 and talk to a real person who really cares, and will help put you in touch with the appropriate agencies, churches, or organizations providing the help you specifically need?  I sure think so! And now that I’m involved, I know an awful lot of other people who’re thankful, too!

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