Ashley Davis is on the front lines of our community every day. When she goes to work at United Way 211, a statewide information and referral service, she connects callers with local programs and helpful community resources.
“Every day is different, but I can take as many as 100 calls during an eight-hour shift,” said Davis. “I’m often the first point of contact for people who don’t know where to turn. Sometimes information about programs and services isn’t easy to find or readily available online, and not everyone has reliable access to the internet. I try to provide direction and give them a place to start.”
Ashley is one of about a dozen community resource specialists at United Way 211. All calls are free and completely confidential, and the service recently began offering an additional option to text a zip code to 898-211 for help.
211 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the state of Minnesota – from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul to rural communities. Community resource specialists speak English, Spanish, and Hmong, and can accommodate other language speakers through the assistance of a translation service.
“Sometimes it’s really hard for people to reach out because they think they’ll be judged and that is not at all what we do,” Davis said. “Honestly, falling into tough times can happen to anyone. I let them know it’s okay to ask for help and support.”
Ashley listens to each caller and then works to connect them with one or more of United Way 211’s 40,000+ statewide resources that include food, housing, utilities, mental health services, employment support, education, childcare, health care, and alcohol and drug treatment options, just to name a few.
“Some callers just have one very focused need and others have a lot of different needs that span multiple areas- it really varies,” said Davis. “The need people call me about the most is definitely housing- I hear from so many people who are struggling to find an affordable place to live. There’s a huge need and not enough options for families. Those are hard calls.”
United Way 211 has been around for more than 50 years and makes thousands of referrals every year to social supports and basic needs. The service is part of Greater Twin Cities United Way’s mission to create an environment where all people, regardless of income, race, or place, can meet their basic needs so they can thrive in life.
Davis added, “When I get off the phone, it’s really nice when a caller tells me I’ve been helpful and when I hear “thank you.” I feel like what I’m doing is making an impact, and that’s what matters.”