Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ride United is Here!

By guest blogger Danielle Robertson, South Sound 2-1-1 Transportation Specialist

“Thank you for calling South Sound 211, how can I help you?”

“I need transportation assistance today to get to my medical appointment at 2pm. I have had to cancel the past two appointments because I couldn’t find transportation.”

As I sit listening to the urgency in the caller’s voice and I learn that my caller is unable to safely get to the bus from where she lives and does not have the money to pay for a transportation program such as Lyft. I stare at the screen of transportation resources that my caller is not eligible for, preparing myself to tell my caller that there are not transportation options that can help get them to their appointment today at 2 pm.
If only there was a program that was designed specifically for this situation…

“Thank you for calling South Sound 211, how can I help you?”

“My car won’t start and if I am late to work one more time, I will lose my job. I need to be there in a half hour.”

Once again, I find myself taking a sharp breath preparing myself to tell another caller that there is not a transportation resource that is able to provide transportation right now to get them to work. The only option that is able to provide immediate transportation is the bus or a paid ride sharing program like Lyft. I sit there knowing that if this caller is unable to get to work and loses their job, they won’t be able to afford rent and could become homeless.
If only there was a program that was designed for this situation…

“Thank you for calling South Sound 211, how can I help you?”

“I couldn’t make it to my appointment to receive utility assistance because the bus does not run where I live. I missed my appointment. Our utilities were shut off for a week and half. Now I have to pay a late fee and reconnection fee in addition to the utility bill. All of this could have been prevented, if I had only had transportation to get to my original appointment”

If they only had transportation. Their utility bill would have been paid on time. They would not have had their utilities shut off and have to replace the food that went bad. They wouldn’t be scrambling to find the money to pay these late fees and reconnections.
If only there was a program that could have prevented this situation.

Ride United to the Rescue!
Transportation remains one of the largest barriers facing 211 clients who are trying to secure employment, access medical care, obtain healthy food, and escape emergencies and crises. Without reliable transportation people struggle to complete the most basic daily activities.
That is why Ride United was created. 

In June 2018, Lyft partnered with United Way and 211 to launch a pilot program to address this gap in resources. When eligible individuals call 211 and express a transportation need, a 211 specialist assesses their need, looks for available resources, and if none are available, they are able to utilize Lyft’s Concierge portal to dispatch a free round trip ride on behalf of the individual. This summer, Ride United expanded to twenty-five 211 communities across the US, including South Sound 211, to start providing free Lyft rides for qualifying individuals seeking to meet the highest unmet needs in our communities.

We are excited about the partnership between United Way and Lyft to add Ride United as a resource available to individuals in our community. This is a wonderful opportunity to provide even better service in the area of transportation.

This means that people living in 5 targeted Tacoma zip codes (98404, 98405, 98408, 98409 and  98444) can receive an on-demand round trip Lyft ride when no other transportation option is available for:
Medical Related Transportation Needs
Medicare Appointment
Non-Emergency Medical Appointment
Pharmacy/ Prescription Pick Up
Non-Emergency Hospital Visit

Employment Related Transportation Needs
Job Interview
Job Training
Job Fair
Pre-job Requirements
One Time Work Trip

Public Benefits
Department of Social and Human Services
Social Security Administration
Rental Assistance Appointment
Utility Assistance Appointment
WIC Appointment
Tax Preparation Services
Financial Coaching
Medicaid/CHIP Benefits Access
Housing Benefits Access

Ride United Works Wonders
Over the past year, United Way has seen great success and benefit in partnering with Lyft through Ride United. Across the nation, 211’s are able to provide transportation when there were no other options for people.

In Houston, a 66-year-old needed assistance with transportation to her last physical therapy appointment and a follow-up appointment with her physician. She explained that she’d suffered from a stroke and lost the ability to care for herself with daily tasks, including brushing her teeth, washing, and getting dressed. Even a simple task became seemingly unmanageable. She shared that her son usually drove her to the appointments, but had finally started a new job.   The local 211 was able to provide her with a ride to and from her appointments to ensure she received the care she needed.

In Denver, 211 was able to assist a disabled veteran who had been homeless through the Ride United program. This individual had been homeless for some time and was only able to move with the help of a walker.  Knowing he was in need of transportation to the Veteran Services Center in order to get assistance applying for housing and other essential services, he called 211 for help. When he was told that he would receive a ride and get the help he needed, he was very happy, thankful, and hopeful that things were beginning to change for him.

The value and need for transportation is often overlooked by most people who have reliable transportation, but for those who do not have reliable transportation it becomes a barrier and affects their lives in multiple ways. South Sound 211 is excited to be able to provide transportation to individuals in our community in a new way that can change their lives and help remove barriers for individuals and families in Pierce County.

To learn more visit

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

South Sound 2-11: Get Connected. Get Help.

By Guest Blogger, Walter Neary, Content Manager, Internal Communications at MultiCare

Thirty seconds into the phone call, there is a piercing scream that would give you tinnitus in your ear if you don’t already have it. J’nai Starks smiles. This isn’t new to her when she answers a call to South Sound 2-1-1.

A child began screaming while her mother is on the phone. Of course, the mom must pause in her conversation with Starks. “I’m sorry I don’t know what just happened,” the mother says to Starks as the mother makes sounds consistent with comforting a child.

“It’s OK. I have children. I can wait for you,” Starks says.

The mom settles the child, and the call to 2-1-1 continues. The Parkland woman had just started receiving food aid, and workers had suggested she call 2-1-1 for other services that might help her.

When you support the United Way, you support this 2-1-1 service. United Way is well known for allocating funding to nonprofits with a proven track record of lifting people from poverty. But United Way also operates a service used by countless MultiCare patients and their families: the information resource 2-1-1. By calling 2-1-1, the same way you’d dial 911 in an emergency, a caller can get an enormous amount of advice and resources to provide support in difficult times. 2-1-1 is operated in South Puget Sound by United Way of Pierce County and supported statewide by a broad variety of United Ways including United Way of Spokane County.

Starks is not only building empathy during the call, but also filling out a form about each caller that then taps a database of thousands of resources. The names, numbers and hours of social service agencies that might help this particular caller fly up on the screen. On her second screen, Starks cuts and pastes those resources for a text message she’ll be sending the mom. It will be a personalized survival guide for someone dealing with poverty.

“Thank you. I don’t know what to ask for because I don’t know what is out there,” the mom says.

Starks is one of a dozen operators in the mini call center at the time of this visit. Some of them have more than a crying baby to deal with. On the other side of the room, another conversation is pausing for a different reason. The caller must be distraught, for the 2-1-1 specialist can be overheard telling the caller, “It’s OK. Take a long, deep breath for me.”

“We get that a lot,” Penni Belcher says later. Belcher is the Director for South Sound 2-1-1 at United Way of Pierce County.

United Way is presiding over a revolution in how they provide 2-1-1 service. The new 2-1-1 is not your father’s 2-1-1 or even your big sister’s 2-1-1. Lately, the organization wants to get to know people when they call. And in a new twist, there are times when 2-1-1 is just as likely to
call someone who might otherwise call in.

Getting to know you
The 2-1-1 specialists are in a call center. They’re not selling anything, far from it, but they’re sitting at cubies and conducting call after call. So that’s why this new approach is so surprising.
In most call centers, you want to make the sale and get the customer off the phone so you can take the next call and make another sale. In the old days of 2-1-1, it was totally appropriate to get one question – What’s the food bank closest to me? – and answer it and boom, all done and good. Next call.

Today, 2-1-1 specialists are told to trust their instincts and try to determine if there might be reasons someone wants the food bank or whatever resource they’re looking for. Have they lost their job? Are their bills overwhelming? Are they about to be homeless?

And so, Belcher’s team is drawing out conversations.

“We want folks to call in because we want to have a conversation with them. We want to hear their story. We want to dive deep and understand what’s going on throughout the household so we can offer wraparound services and build that rapport and trust,” Belcher says. “This is about supporting the person during the conversation, not about spelling out the name of the street that a resource is on.”

So how do you get to know someone on the phone when they’re just asking for one thing?

“Usually our people start with ‘Can you tell me more? Can you tell me why you need help; did you lose your job? What happened that you had to pay this unexpected bill?’” says Denise Cervantes, Transportation and Training Associate. “We might ask them  to tell us more about what happened, find out why they don’t have money for their rent. “

So to become a 2-1-1 specialist, you must be able to do more than just look up a food bank address quickly. When hiring, “We look for a high level of energy and personability, the ability to have deep conversations that go on for a long time with people who they don’t know,” Cervantes says.

So you heard it right. This is a call center that actually wants its calls to be longer. Of course… some people just want the address. And that’s just fine. But on the longer calls, 2-1-1 usually finds it can recommend more services than the caller had first predicted.

“A lot of times, people may call about bills or particular services. You may not find out, until you dig deeper, that they need child care to help lift themselves out of their situation,” Belcher says. ”We allow people to tell their story. We’ve trained our people to listen more.
That’s been eye opening.”

2-1-1 calls you
There are a couple of reasons that 2-1-1 might be the one calling you. For one thing, there’s a great emphasis on measuring their results. So when 2-1-1 refers someone to a place, 2-1-1 will follow up with a call to see if the person actually visited or called.

But the most innovative reason to call is a pilot program where 2-1-1 is trying to prevent homelessness. It’s part of a program established by Pierce County to try to help families at risk of homelessness. The program has been going on for years now through in-person visits. Someone identifies the household at risk, and someone from a social service agency then visits the person.

That’s exactly what United Way of Pierce County is doing, but they’re not visiting. They are calling people from the call center.

One of the people making the calls is Elvia Beltrane. Beltrane used to be one of the specialists helping people who call in, but now in the pilot her role is called “Housing Solutions Navigator.”

Beltrane calls people and in a conversation that could take hours, works to identify solutions to their situation and most importantly, help people understand that they have it within themselves to find answers.

“When I hear expressions of self-doubt, I try to encourage them that there’s ways of dealing with their situation. When I hear signs of self-doubt and self-pity, it’s my cue to try to boost them up,” Beltrane says.

She uses the example of a pregnant woman who was living in a car with her first child, who’s now 19. She had originally called 2-1-1 to get resources. The staff flagged her as someone homeless, and Beltrane called her. She helped the woman set some goals and identify temporary solutions; the woman and her daughter now have a place to live and the woman is working in a call center in Lacey.

“The other vital piece besides listening is to work with them on their goals and their next steps. We talked about how we will we take what we’ve learned today to build momentum to get out of this current situation,” Beltrane says.

What that means in practical terms is that people are staying in touch and letting Beltrane know how they’re doing, even after they’re no longer homeless.

Belcher says, “Families are staying in contact with Elvia longer-term, I’ve seen her get messages like, “Hey Elvia, I wanted to let you know I just got my GED. Or I’ve got a job interview. There’s a relationship where she’s been supporting them.”

This is different than the old 2-1-1 where the employee had to be careful to spell out street names and was just trying to offer a resource. Now United Way of Pierce County is offering communications and empathy – and more assistance and support to those who need it most.

Would you like to support 2-1-1 and the United Way’s attack on poverty? Click here to learn how to support the United Way campaign.

United Way of Pierce County operates South Sound 2-1-1, which connects nearly 90,000 contacts each year in Pierce, Thurston and Lewis Counties.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Curbing the Summer Slide: Read United At Meal Sites

Summer break is highly anticipated and celebrated by most children. However, for children who rely on school for meals and reading enrichment, it can be a challenge. Did you know that children can lose up to two months of learning over the summer break? For children in high-need areas with no access to books or summer learning activities, the loss can be even greater. Read United: Summer is designed to keep children engaged and excited about reading and learning over the summer months. United Way of Pierce County staff, interns and volunteers visit free summer meal sites in high-need, low-access areas throughout the summer to read with kids and give away books for the children to keep and read at home anytime!

For the first time, United Way of Pierce County is helping to ensure children are receiving supplemental snacks to feed their bodies in addition to books to feed their minds over the summer! On United Way Worldwide’s Day of Action in June, 3,050 Summer Snack Packs and 150 Summer Learning Packs were assembled. We are grateful to our corporate sponsors and volunteers, whose support made this project possible. The snack packs, which include healthy packaged items and shelf-stable milk, will be distributed each week to 150+ children at the Read United: Summer sites in Tacoma, Lakewood and Franklin Pierce school districts. Children in attendance will also have the opportunity to sign up for ongoing engagement for 6-8 weeks and receive a Summer Learning Pack to keep them motivated.

Research on book deserts, areas that lack of access to print reading materials, show that the summer months drastically limit book access in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to Urban Education. The effects of the summer slide are cumulative: losing months of learning each summer can place children an entire grade behind their peers over the duration of their elementary education and researchers estimate that by the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two-year lag in reading achievement.

Join us and make a difference for a child in need this summer. By bringing together caring individuals, resources and summer feeding and reading programs,you can take advantage of a great opportunity to support summer learning and cultivate a love of reading with children. This is a multi-disciplinary approach with  Hunger-Free Pierce County to enhance the educational component of their work. Through effective partnerships, we trust more children can be impacted by this approach.

For more information about Read United, please email or register for a lunchtime volunteer session here volunteer session here

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Fresh Start for Melissa

We recently received a letter of thanks for South Sound 2-1-1 support. Elvia, one of our amazing team members, got this lovely thank you that we want to share with you. Without your support we would not be able to help tens of thousands of Pierce, Thurston and Lewis County residents every year!

"My name is Melissa. I have a 19 year old daughter named Stephanie who I had when I was 16. Now I’m having a baby boy due on August 13th. We were leaving a domestic violence situation and were homeless, living in a car, when I reached Elvia at 211. She provided many resources that helped me to meet our needs, including a gift card to help me get some things for the baby. I was able to find a more consistent job and an apartment for us! With the financial help that was provided, we were able to move into our new home on June 15th.... in time for my baby boy! I am so grateful for the help and fresh start for me-- and more importantly my children. Thank you so much!" Melissa
To learn more about South Sound 2-1-1 visit our web page, download the annual 2-1-1 report or make a gift to support our work!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Paying it Forward with 2-1-1

By Guest Blogger, J'nai Starks, South Sound 2-1-1 Workforce Navigator 

I have always been a person that has a passion to help people in need. Even in grade school, I always made a point to speak to our janitors because I knew that there is more than what you see on the surface.

Everyone has feelings and is important to someone else.  In fact, without workers like this, our infrastructure would crumble.

I have carried this attitude throughout my life. In my late teens and early 20’s I would go out and feed homeless people on my own. Taking my own money and making sack lunches, and not just PB & J sandwiches either, but full-on lunches. The look on their faces when they opened those bags filled my heart with happiness and gave me hope.

I myself have been in crisis and there was nowhere to turn. This left me in a position of feeling hopeless. One day, I saw a sign somewhere that said just that, “Nowhere to turn? Call 2-1-1.” So, I did. I was connected to resources to help me in my time of need. 

I personally know the struggle of the 2-1-1 caller being vulnerable and feeling shame in asking for help. That’s why I know I must always bring compassion, empathy and empowerment with me every day to work so I can be that bright spot in someone’s day.

Many times, I have had someone call in tears, to say they don’t know what to do-- or where to turn. By the end of that call, I have identified resources and provided words of encouragement so they know to keep fighting and also to know, that this storm will pass.

One person I remember very well is Gary. He was scared and crying and worried about his health. He wanted to know where to go to get a health test. During that call, Gary shared that he was homeless and living in his car. He also told me, he didn’t want to live anymore, because life has gotten so hard.

I wanted Gary to know that it was going to be ok and life was worth living.  So I took the time to talk to him but mostly I listened.  Much of our job involves listening so we can find the best solutions for each person.

I encouraged Gary to be strong and whatever challenges he faced-- to know he can get thru it.  By the end of our call he was laughing and told me he had the will to live. Gary said he felt that no one listened to him, but I took the time to let him vent, speak his heart and listen to him as he explained his life to me.

Not only did I provide resources for where he can go to get a health test but I also provided resources to Gary over the phone and thru email which included shelters, safe parking, local food pantries and gas vouchers.

Gary responded to me later that day saying: “You gave me hope this evening, your voice made me feel like I was not alone anymore. This is a testament to your courage and ability in your job and your unwavering support for broken people. You gave me hope and it instilled. I cannot express how deeply your words meant to me. You took away my fear regardless of the pending outcome.”

One week later, I followed up with Gary and he told me:  “Everything is going great! Your help, helped! So far, I'm doing much better and I guess I had to go through all of that to sharpen me more.  I have utilized church services for: Gas, a phone card and food pantry services-- so far my health is better! And my test was negative.”

That is just one of many stories. Which is why I do what I do and why I love it. Without 2-1-1, many lives would be at stake financially, emotionally and physically.  Each of us are here on earth to do our part – and building up our community to be the best that it can be, by being a member of the 2-1-1 team, I am given the opportunity to do just that every day.

I love working at 2-1-1. To know that I am helping our community, one member at a time warms my heart and makes me want to be a better person every day. Thank you for your time and I hope each of you are doing your part as well.

My Story...So Far

By Guest Blogger Markiss Cooper, owner/partner, iHAUL

I became a father at the early age of 16. I was soon paying child support, which is tough when you’re a kid and you’re still in high school. In no time at all, I was $3,000 in debt and that debt just kept growing. I dropped out of high school so I could work. As you can imagine, that debt stacked up and I was on an uphill battle just to survive, much less find a path forward.

Fast forward, I got my high school diploma and started community college where I earned my associates degree. During that time, I got married and we have a wonderful 7-year old daughter.

I moved to Tacoma where I worked in a charter school where things were very tumultuous. My uncle introduced me to Tim at Sound Outreach and with Tim, who runs united Way’s Center for Strong Families. Right away, I connected with Tim—he’s someone I can really talk with. I got myself set up with a financial coach, went through literacy training. I grew my savings while I improved my credit score. These may seem like small things, but they grew into bigger things.

For example, my credit score went from the low 500s to the high 700’s. Once I understood more about what I could do with the assets I had, then it opened up my eyes to other possibilities.

I was so proud the day I could buy a 2012 Sierra pick up. Because you see, I had always been entrepreneurial and taken on odd jobs to help people move things and it was Tim who planted the seed in me. What if I could start my own business?

That’s exactly what I did. In January 2018, iHAUL, was launched--the hardest working logistics partner in South Puget Sound.  It’s true. Today, I am running my own business. It’s a small start-up with big ideas. We provide White Glove Delivery Service, Room-of-Choice Service for Residential and Commercial Deliveries. Each of my team members are expertly trained, hard-working and honest home delivery movers, who are just as dedicated to their work.

They’re like most people who struggle but work hard. I am proof that you can reach your goals and I am grateful for United Way’s Center for Strong Families and for Sound Outreach for taking a chance on me. It was also one best decisions I’ve ever made. Besides marrying my wife and having our family together.