Opportunity for all: Accessibility and Inclusion in Mile High United Way's 2-1-1 Help Center
Mile High United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center serves as a critical resource to support members of our community who find themselves in need of assistance. Last year alone, we helped more than 75,000 of our neighbors navigate a complex web of resources and systems ranging from child care to tax preparation assistance to basic needs like food, shelter, and rental assistance. 2-1-1 is powered by exceptional people who are able to stay professional, calm, and compassionate as they interact with callers who may be facing one of the most difficult days of their lives.
We are constantly looking for new avenues to find the type of exceptional person it takes to do this job, which is why, for the past five years, we have proudly partnered with the Colorado Center for the Blind, Team EEI (Estrada Enterprises Incorporated), and the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to connect talented, passionate blind and visually impaired individuals with professional development opportunities that simultaneously allow them to serve the community. Team EEI provides intensive preparation, training, coaching, and follow-up to ensure that interns are supported at every step along their path toward a career.
For some, the internship is their first work experience. Therefore, the 2-1-1 internship establishes an intentional sequence of supports to ensure that participants are set up to excel within the workforce during their time in the program and afterward. 2-1-1 has hired two interns as full-time specialists, who continue to serve our community with expert, compassionate resource navigation to this day.
Our commitment to inclusive workplaces goes beyond an internship program. Mile High United Way has long been an inclusive workplace that prioritizes accessibility for people with disabilities. We were able to call upon this experience during the 2-1-1 Help Center’s recent transition to a modern, cloud-based communication platform.
Willie Clinton has worked at Mile High United Way for three years as a 2-1-1 Specialist. After years as a business owner, he came to us initially on an internship through Team EEI and quickly demonstrated his passion for community service and his knack for lending a helping hand. “Helping people is what I love to do,” he said. Willie recounted one call with a woman whose husband—who had handled the couple’s finances—had recently passed away. As the woman began to cry, Willie deviated from trying to pinpoint resources to help her and simply listened. After finishing her story and getting connected with resources to help her, she thanked Willie not only for the connections to community resources that could help her, but for taking the time to hear her story.
Employees like Willie are hard to come by and vital to keep. We—and the thousands of people who have benefited from Willie’s guidance and expertise over the past three years—are thus the direct beneficiaries of our efforts to ensure that all people in our community are provided with opportunities to put their talents and passions to use.
According to the 2015 American Community Survey five-year estimate, of the 139,296 individuals with disabilities in Colorado’s labor force, 20,911 were unemployed—an unemployment rate of 15 percent. The corresponding calculation for individuals without a disability is 6.2 percent. There is clearly tremendous opportunity to give individuals with disabilities pathways to engage with the economy to ensure that no human potential goes to waste. Mile High United Way is proud of its programs, investments, and partnerships in pursuit of a community united to create better opportunities for all.