February 11 is 2-1-1 Day, and while we believe our 2-1-1 Resource Navigators deserve to be celebrated every day, this year’s celebration is particularly poignant.
This past year, the staff members that power our 2-1-1 Help Center worked during an unprecedented time, answering calls from thousands of people in our community who suddenly found themselves in need of critical support. Between March 2 through the end of 2020, they received 120,000 requests for help, with the largest number of requests falling under rent payment, utility payment, food assistance, and housing assistance.
In a time when hopelessness could have easily overwhelmed even the most jovial of employees, our 2-1-1 Resource Navigators stepped up to the plate. They committed, wholly, to helping our community with compassion, empathy, and deep knowledge of the resources available. They chose, and continue to choose daily, to be guiding lights supporting our neighbors through some of their darkest times.
In order to best highlight that work during a year that’s held its fair share of dark times, we sat down with Kasey Harlos (pictured below), the Emergency Response Supervisor for Mile High United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center, to talk about her experience over the past year.
Q: How has it felt to witness the tremendous increase in need from our community?
A: It’s still very difficult to find the words to express or encompass how it has felt. There have been so many ups and downs. Watching our call volume spike and continue to increase due to the various needs across the community is devasting, gut-wrenching, and scary.
It fills me with empathy and humility for any family that has dealt with job loss, been displaced from their home, had their hours cut, or has struggled to pay bills or keep food on the table because of this pandemic. I’m also grateful that I, myself, have been lucky enough to keep my job and my home throughout this, a gratitude that is only amplified by listening to calls and hearing the circumstances that our clients could never have seen coming throughout this past year.
Q: From your experience answering 2-1-1 calls, can you share a story that stands out to you as particularly meaningful? Why do these stories linger with you?
A: At the beginning of COVID-19, when we had a majority of our Mile High United Way staff answering calls, I helped one of our team members answer a call from a woman who was a single mother and small business owner. Her company was shut down at the beginning of COVID-19, so we began by setting her up to receive unemployment. We also found some workforce centers to help her find a temporary job while she worked to transition her business, an art studio, to operate online quickly. She called us prior to when the Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) resources began offering rent support, so the resource navigator supported her in applying for a Mile High United Way grant to pay for her rent. She was approved and 2-1-1 was able to help keep a roof over her head. She also applied for Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through 2-1-1 to help keep food on the table while waiting for the grant to process.
This client’s story sticks with me because she reminds me so much of myself at age 25 living in Los Angeles alone, trying to open my own business. Any one of us could be financially struggling to survive at any point. How you get through moments like that depends on the level of support you have in your corner helping you back up.
But what about those that don’t have that direct support from friends or family? Those are the people that stand out to me – the strong independent people that work to maintain their lives on their own every day that fall onto hard times. That resonates with me and my life experiences. We get to be that support system for those people. We get to find them the help they need to get through, to help them keep their heads up, to encourage them to continue fighting for their future.
Q: How has Mile High United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center adapted to meet the increased needs of the community?
A: We have adapted in so many ways, where do I even begin? It’s been beautiful to watch and be part of how 2-1-1 has shifted to meet the growing needs and adapted the way we serve clients. From day one, our 2-1-1 team did not skip a beat or reflect a single missed hour of operation in transitioning to the remote, stay-at-home work environment. They didn’t miss a beat in the face of the many partnership that have been created. They didn’t miss a beat in the additional lines of direct service we have picked up or the increase in resources in our database. It’s really been astounding.
2-1-1 has taken on new partnerships with the Thornton Subsistence Fund, State COVID-19 and Vaccine Support, shifted and increased our direct client assistance to ensure we are supporting the current community needs, and our resource team has worked diligently to add the newest resources to our database. All these adjustments ensure we are providing the most up-to-date and accurate information (such as new EHAP sites, mental health support, vaccine and COVID-19 resources and information, and much more), to each call the 2-1-1 Help Center answers.
Q: What do you think would surprise our neighbors to know about how 2-1-1 has helped Coloradans this year?
A: Maybe a few of these mind-blowing statistics:
• 2-1-1 completed 2,252 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications to help community members gain access to food benefits just between July – December of 2020
• Between August and December of 2020, 2-1-1 and our United for Schools (UFS) team distributed $109,244.84 in direct assistance. UFS supported approximately 26 families, and the 2-1-1 Thornton Subsistence Fund supported nearly 100 families throughout the Thornton area.
• We have taken tens of thousands of general COVID-19 and Vaccine related calls to answer client’s question and provide them comfort and direction.
Q: What are some of the other ways Mile High United Way has pivoted this past year?
A: The rest of our organization adapted in incredible ways as well. Our Volunteer Team shifted many of our Signature events to include virtual and remote options, while still managing to pull off a smooth and joyful Children’s Holiday Party. They also maintained our partnership with the Broncos to get the youth in our community the school supplies they needed at our Back to School Bash. We put on a virtual Women United Luncheon and Turkey Trot, distributed thousands upon thousands of masks to nonprofits and partners across the city and opened a warming center to serve those experiencing homelessness during severe cold weather.
Our United for Business program provided direct support and resources to keep small business owners afloat and provided hope when their livelihoods were on the line. Our United for Schools program found innovative ways to keep students engaged when learning went remote. Through our United for Families initiative, we served the early childhood sector by delivering much needed cleaning supplies as well as providing small operating grants to childcare providers. Our Bridging the Gap team continued to be a solid rock of support for the young adults in critical transitionary times, prioritizing housing and mental health supports. The way we serve the community adapted in so many ways, but we never stopped serving the community. The work we’ve done together is really inspiring to me.
Q: What is the one thing you want people to know about Mile High United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center?
Our 2-1-1 team is inspiring, agile, flexible, and refuses to say “no” when asked for help no matter how big the ask is. Our 2-1-1 staff ALWAYS steps up to the challenge, so when I think about them, what I feel is: heart-warming, inspiring, and grateful to work with such amazing individuals that I get to call my team and family.
Learn More About Mile High United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center
2-1-1 is a multilingual and confidential service that connects individuals with community resources and information, such as food, shelter, rental assistance, childcare, and more. Covering 25 counties in partnership with United Way of Larimer County and United Way of Weld County, our 2-1-1 Help Center serves the Metro Denver area, as well as Northern Colorado – approximately 71% of the state’s population. Learn how you can support Mile High United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center. Learn more