Episode 2: What Is 211?

What is 211? That’s the question we answer in this episode of “What’s the 211.” We’re talking with Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland, and Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist for the 2-1-1 Helpline at the United Way, which is a member of the 211 Call Center Network. We talk about 211 programs and services, including free tax assistance, support for opioid use, and partnerships with Lyft and the Census.

Show Notes

1:44 How to get help

Many people call 211 for help with utility assistance and eviction prevention. We can find services for you based on your ZIP code, and let you know how to apply for assistance. Sometimes, you need documents to qualify. So, our call specialists help prepare you so you can get services quickly. Search our database for assistance now or dial 2-1-1 on your phone.

2:41 What to expect when calling 211

First and foremost, 211 specialists are trained to listen and help connect callers to agencies that can help them problem-solve. Think of 2-1-1 like a helpline. You won’t hear a script. Instead, expect a genuine conversation that will remain confidential. By dialing 2-1-1, you can walk through your particular problem, the trained call specialist will listen and answer any questions a caller may have and then work together toward a solution or a connection to available resources.

7:55 Free Tax Help

There are a number of organizations that offer free tax assistance for those who qualify. The organizations are aware of tax deductions that you may not realize you qualify for. They can help with the Earned Income Tax Credit as well. 211 Maryland works with the CASH Campaign of Maryland. Using a partner organization like this, taxpayers who qualify get their taxes done for free and get a full refund without worry of fees hidden in the fine print.

10:51 Fuel Fund

211 Maryland can act as a point person for utility assistance with The Fuel Fund of Maryland. We can help you fill out your application and ensure the process goes smoothly. By dialing 2-1-1, you can also get connected to a partner food pantry.

11:43 Food Pantry Help
211 Maryland receives a lot of requests for food help, and through our directory of services we can do food referrals.

12:21 Lyft

Through a partnership with Lyft, 211 Maryland is able to provide round-trip transportation for callers in certain crisis situations. The Ride United program is available in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, and Howard County.

16:43 Census in Maryland

It only takes a few minutes to fill out the Census. Make sure you’re counted!

18:30 Opioid Crisis

Through a new grant from Twilio, 211 Maryland is able to help anyone find a drug treatment and recovery program. Text 8-9-8-2-1-1 and the word “opioid” whether you or someone you know needs detox or support with addiction.

One of our call specialists who responds to these calls talks about how this texting reassurance can connect you with the help you need.

Through a special partnership with Lyft, it’s also possible to get a ride to a treatment center immediately.

With the right support, recovery is possible. You don’t have to be a statistic.

20:46 Partner Organizations

211 Maryland has over 14,000 social service agencies in its database. When you call the data nerve center, you’re connected with a person who is ready to listen and connect you with the best programs for your personal situation.

These agencies are verified at least every year, and often more frequently as funding changes with programs. 211 Maryland has the latest information for food, housing, utility assistance, and so much more.

If you’d like to partner with 211, click here.

25:32 Misconceptions about getting resources

So often people think they can’t get help or they may not qualify. That’s a big misconception because help is available. We can help you work through the overwhelm and guide you through the process, even helping you get the right paperwork to qualify for services.

When you don’t know where to turn, call 2-1-1. There’s a caring person on the other end of the line, willing to listen and help. It’s not just a one-time call. If you want, the call specialists can also follow-up to ensure you’re getting the help you need.


Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (00:42)

Hello, and welcome to what’s. 2-1-1 podcast. And today, we have our special guests, Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland, and Elaine Pollack, Information & Certified Resource Specialist for the 2-1-1 United Way Helpline.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (00:52)

Welcome everyone. So why are you here? Could you please tell us a little bit about 211 United Way and sort of what your roles are with the organization?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (00:59)

Yeah, sure. So 2-1-1 is a number that anyone can dial throughout the state and be connected to a live person to kind of problem solve whatever issue they might be going through, health or human service-related. So they could be calling about not knowing where to get food or maybe having issues paying their electricity bill. And like I said, the person answering the phone is there to be not only an empathetic ear but also to try and talk through whatever issue they’re facing. So my job here is to kind of oversee that and make sure that things are running smoothly and that people can dial in.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist (01:30)

And I am a certified resource specialist, so I do take the calls, and you never know what you’re going to get, but you have to be prepared for kind of anything. And we have a really big database that we can dig into to try and meet the needs of our callers. Okay.

How To Get Help

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (01:44)

Okay. And I know you mentioned that folks calling to them and why should someone call or what is your typical type of person that may call 2-1-1?

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist (01:51)

Well, the major cause that we get a lot of the times are for utility assistance or eviction prevention. And so when someone calls 2-1-1, we can get where they live, and we get their zip code. So the resources that we go into, in our database, are based on where they live and who helps in that area. Then we can screen the callers for different types of programs they may qualify for. Some are income-based. Some are just based off the fact that they might have a turnoff notice or an eviction notice. Then we can refer them to where they need to go and prepare them for what they might need to bring. Sometimes going to places, there are lots of documents you need to bring in. If you forget one piece of information, it might take a whole other day out of their lives to go back to that place, to bring back that document, to fulfill the obligation. So we try to prepare them as best we can.

What To Expect When Calling 211

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (2:41)

Okay. And so for a typical person in the community that might be calling to 2-1-1 maybe a little skeptical about calling this number, what’s the normal experience like what happens when someone dials 2-1-1, and someone picks up on the other end.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (02:52)

So when someone calls into 2-1-1, like I said, they’re going to be asked to kind of identify what they’re calling for. Now. We do have a Spanish speaker on staff, but then we also can connect with them. I think it’s over 200 languages. So language is absolutely not a barrier.
And so what we would do is after being connected with a live person, they would explain their issue. And then, like I said, we would gather some information like Elaine was saying based on like assessing their particular situation. So not only would we be asking probably the income-dependent upon, you know, the service where they live, who might be in their household, what might their social supports be, and then connecting them to the resources that exist within their community to try and solve that problem. But if that doesn’t exist in their community, or we need to take maybe a further step, in some cases, we could even advocate on their behalf by reaching out to agencies to try and find solutions to the problems that they’re presenting.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (03:44)

So maybe if there was someone, as an example, who had a utility bill and maybe had an oxygen tank in their home, that would be a scary place to be for anyone. And so our job in that would be to ensure that those lights did not get turned off by maybe calling over to legal agencies or other consumer protection agencies to try and stop something like that, where maybe there’s a health risk.

Then we would also, depending again on what they were calling in for, we have some internal programs that we screen people for. So, whether it be like application assistance or documentation gathering. Or maybe like we’re doing right now, I’m screening people and signing people up for free tax prep. So it just depends on what the caller is kind of going through.

But, walking through their particular problem, listening and then answering questions, and then kind of problem-solving together, whether it be through a crisis or maybe what some of us might feel like is more normal day-to-day kind of issues. And then we would ask if we can call them back and if that’s not okay that’s all right with us. But, more so to just check on them and see if they got what they needed. We would encourage them to call back. Like I said, we are 24/7. I encourage them to call back anytime.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (04:48)

Okay, and so do individuals who are calling in, are the folks that are answering the calls, are they social workers? Are they case managers? How would you describe the folks that are answering the calls?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (04:57)

So everybody in the call center, and actually, I like to call it a helpline. It’s not your typical call center and like the work that some of our, like BGE or like a Verizon or Comcast, when you call. You get to a call center, you know. They do like it to think of it as a helpline cause it is more than just providing a number. And it’s because, to your point, of the folks that we hire.

So everyone in the helpline has at least a bachelor’s degree. Most of them have master’s, and we have a couple of licensed social workers on staff. Everyone has a pretty strong background in like social work counseling and psychology. I think for every eight people we interview, it’s one we hire because we’re looking for a very particular type of person. We don’t use scripting. When you’re talking to a person, you’re talking to that individual. We want everyone to feel like because it is true that you’re having a genuine open and anonymous conversation. That’s completely confidential with someone that really does care. We’ve been very lucky for all of our team members, and I really do believe that everyone has a stake in what happens to the callers. Like I said, we have pretty longevity, like no one really leaves once they start with us because they really do believe in the mission and the people that we serve.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (06:02)

And so I know that folks can also call, but there are other ways to connecting with a resource specialist or call specialist with 2-1-1 besides calling in.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (06:09)

So there are lots of ways that you can connect with 2-1-1. So you can dial the 2-1-1 number from wherever you’re standing. You’ll be connected with somebody through there, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can also go onto our website – 211md.org We also have email. So if you send your email (info@211MD.org – please include your zip code) and we’ll either respond back via email or call you back.

We try and make two and one as accessible as we can to people to kind of meet people where they are in their comfort level of. I think it’s hard sometimes having to talk about your problems so openly with strangers, and we want to make it as comfortable as possible for folks that we can kind of help guide them. The social service system can be really confusing and a little bit disjointed. And our job is really to help you figure out how to best utilize your internal resources because a lot of people have the strength within themselves, but then also look externally to what actually exists out in the community.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (07:12)

So it really helps someone to be so their own advocate, you know, calling and being able to find the resources that they need.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (07:17)

Absolutely. That’s kind of the first step is we want to empower people to have the tools to help themselves. But then it’s also like I said, it is very confusing sometimes, and we’re sort of the experts in that field. And so when people aren’t sure who to ask the questions to, or might be embarrassed to ask the questions to. We’re there to answer those types of things. So I know a lot of people when they call, and they say things like this is my first time ever needing help, or I’m embarrassed to be calling. And there’s just really no reason for that because I get what they’re saying, but we’re there a hundred percent to be by their side and be their cheerleader during the process of trying to kind of get out of whatever issue that they’re facing.

Free Tax Help

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (07:55)

That’s great. I also understand that your office has some really cool partnerships to support folks in Maryland. Can you talk a bit about some of the partnerships that you have?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (08:03)

Absolutely. So right now, we’re about to be utilizing. We have a couple. I guess I’ll start actually, let me start with taxes since it’s kind of a right now moment, right?

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist

So we are partnered with the CASH Campaign of Maryland to help. We’re signing people up for appointments for free tax preparation throughout Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County. And so someone will call, and it’s for any individual or joint filers who make $56,000 or less a year. And so that is one of the partnerships that we have had for how many years?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland

Oh my gosh. I’m not sure.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist

So people know each year, and they trust it, and they can call us back. And they know each year that they can go somewhere locally to them to get their taxes filed for free from professionals who are trained.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (08:51)

What I really like about that, just to kind of go off of that. What you’re saying is that we’re sending them, like you said, to professionals. But, it’s also, there’s not going be any predatory practices when they’re getting their taxes, and there’s not going to be any like the advances on your supposed tax refund, which kind of gets people stuck in a bind. They’re also there to help people fill out FASFA, open savings accounts.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist

They do a lot of good screening for any type of tax deductions that they might otherwise not realize that they qualify for.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland

And it’s free.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland

That’s completely free. And if you make over the $56,000 threshold, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t free taxes out there for you.

I’ve been with them for 10 years. I have never paid for my taxes. And neither should you.

You can go to the website, myfreetaxes.com, and it’s for anyone. And it’s a hundred percent free, as long as you feel comfortable doing your taxes online. And if not, AARP has a site locator, and they don’t really have strict guidelines around income. So most people do qualify for that as well. And to find out kind of where your site might be, you might want to call 2-1-1, and we can point you in the right direction.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland  (09:53)

Do you find that folks identify, you mentioned that they identify monies that they could be eligible for, especially with the Earned Income Credit. Are folks really familiar about that? Or do they really help a lot of individuals identify, you know, extra funds that they can find with that particular credit?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (10:06)

Yeah, I think it’s interesting because I think a lot of people are familiar with the idea of the EITC the Earned Income Tax Credit, but they don’t really understand what it, or when it is. So I think there’s good marketing around that. It’s out there, but because people do call us asking for that credit, but as you know, it does get applied like when you’re applying for your taxes. So they are looking for anything, that anyone might be eligible for including and especially the EITC.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist

There’s a renter’s tax credit, the child tax credit, the homeowner’s tax credit, the homestead credit. There’s tons.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland

There’s money getting left on the table. And so what’s lovely is that the CASH Campaign of Maryland really does screen pretty heavily for all those things, to make sure that people are getting the money that they deserve and should be there.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (10:48)

So if you’re unsure, call 2-1-1. Yes!

[Editors Note: Find free tax help for seniors and other individuals from a nonprofit near you]

Fuel Fund

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (10:51)

So that’s one of our ones that are going on right now. We also partner very closely with the Fuel Fund. So the Fuel Fund of Maryland serves, I believe it’s just, uh, BGE customers. What we do with them is we kind of act as a direct connection line. So if people’s lights are off or they have maybe like I mentioned earlier, maybe an oxygen tank or special medical equipment in the home, but also just generally off, we can make a direct connection to the Fuel Fund, and fill out their application for them. And then kind of act as almost a point person through that process to ensure that it is going smoothly.

We have a couple of relationships like that with certain agencies out in the community. Our relationships with our community partners are just really important. I think that it serves to provide better service to the people that call 2-1-1. We are very knowledgeable about what exists, but then because we are such a long-standing service, we know the people that run these programs, and we have personal relationships with these folks.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (11:43)

So sometimes when we do need to make those phone calls, we already know who to call or might have kind of an access point for them to go through as opposed to some of the normal channels when there’s emergency situations.

Food Pantries

We also, as another example with like food pantries, we get a lot of requests for food pantries, and we do the food referrals needed. So once again, it’s a direct connection for guaranteed food access. These kinds of partnerships and agreements that we have sometimes just MOU’s in place. It just causes better outcomes for the people that are calling in so that when they call in, they can know that they’re getting good information from someone who’s very knowledgeable, who knows the right people and can, in some cases, fast track that process.

Lyft – Ride United

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (12:21)

Okay. What is your Lyft partnership? Okay,

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (12:24)

So the Lyft partnership it should be restarting very soon. I would say probably next month. What it is is we’re providing transportation. One round trip for people in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel and Howard County for different kinds of reasons. We actually got a grant. Uh, it started with the United way worldwide and partnership with Lyft. And then we’ve also received funding from individual donations.
General Motors has also provided quite a bit of money in order for us to be able to provide this kind of transportation for gap services. So if someone, as an example, needs to get to a job interview, but to their unfortunate luck, their car’s broken down, we can give them that round trip bridge to that job interview. We can do anything underemployment, anything under food-related, they need to get to the grocery store this one time they need to go and apply for WIC or SNAP, something like that.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (13:16)

We can also help with applying for other benefits. So if they need to get down to the department of social services to get help with their eviction notice, we can pay for the round trip, right for that, and anything medical related. I think that becomes really hard, especially sometimes for our older population who might not have the support like they used to, or don’t have access to a car, to get to maybe medical appointments. We recently had a caller. It was a gentleman who, had a, I think she was like 12 years old. She had over 104 fever, but didn’t want to call an ambulance for something like that. So that would be another example. So anything around food, anything around medical, employment, financial, we can offer a one-time round trip ride for a household to take advantage of. It’s not going to be the end-all be-all answer to the transportation gaps that exist within our communities, but it is a good stop-gap for those emergent needs that sometimes crop up without you really being able to plan for it.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (14:15)

Right. So that really fills a need in case of an emergency. And so with, you know, with, I’m sure limited funding with that program, how is there ways that the community can help support that effort?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (14:24)

Yes. So they can go to UWCM.org, and there is a donate location on the 2-1-1 landing page for the Lyft program. It is something that we need right now. The average ride is going to be $18.50. So that will provide one ride to somebody. Yes, but it depends on the need. So, like as an example, and it also depends on the location. So let’s say you’re talking Baltimore City and you need to get to a food pantry. The cost of that ride will be smaller because food pantries are located in your community. So the cost of the ride will be shorter. Then there are times where if you maybe in a more rural community need to get to the one Department of Social Services that could be 20 miles away. And I think it kind of the cost is we average it, but if you start to talk per need, it depends. Medical is also a little cheaper. The employment one is also a little higher. Right now, the number one reason people are calling us for rides, is medical, followed by employment and then food. So yes, if you would like to donate, please do it is a, it is, uh, it does make an impact. I think we’ve helped a lot of people out of binds by having that special fund.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (15:34)

Yeah. So definitely, if someone is looking to fill a gap in the community financially, I mean, this is a way to help support someone in an emergency in your office. I’m assuming it does all the vetting of the folks who were calling to ensure that they get to where they need to get to, but also that they are going to where they say they’re going,

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (15:48)

It’s kind of neat. If you’ve ever used a Lyft app. I don’t have a car so I use the Lyft app often. It looks just like it so we can watch the car…Maybe like two months ago there was, a woman….who was leaving a domestic violence relationship. As she was leaving, her partner had showed up. The Community Resource Specialist was very worried in that moment about what might happen. Kind of like a mother watching over her child, as she described it. She watched the woman, like she was on the phone, but she watched her get in the car and then like the little dot go to where she needed to go. And she watched it the whole way to make sure that nothing interfered with getting to where she was actually, to get to her daughter to move out of state.


Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (16:43)

That’s great. Yeah. That’s definitely a powerful story. I know there’s been a lot of talk around the centers is, uh, you know, any way helpline do anything.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (16:51)

Absolutely. We talked to last year, I think it was a little over, it was about 108,000 people just in the central Maryland area alone. And so, the census reached out to us, and we were able to partner with them because we have such a strong reach, especially in the undercounted communities. The Census doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that is how funding streams into underfunded communities. So, I know that sometimes there were some fears around what it is, but we have to be counted in order for the government to make decisions around like where the money goes. And so we are doing outreach. It’s kind of, it’s on our phone. When people call, they’ll hear a message about it. They can also talk to someone over the phone about it as well.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (17:34)

And, you know, you guys should all be receiving stuff in the mail pretty soon about being counted and going online to make sure that you are counted.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist (17:41)

This is the first year ever in history that you can do your Census online. Another facet of my role at 2-1-1 is also to do some outreach where I get invited into smaller community like church health fairs or community health fairs, back to school events, and things of that nature. And I get to hand out some literature to those who are coming to the 2-1-1 table to find out about 2-1-1, and also to give out that literature to encourage people to be counted for the Census this year.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (18:11)

So great. So folks who do receive information in the mail, but are unsure about what it is, or if it’s real, real document, you know, just call, call 2-1-1

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (18:20)

Well, and also, the librarians at every local library have been trained now to help folks who want to do it online at the library that can guide them to at anyone’s local library.

Opioid Epidemic

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (18:30)

That is great information. And so we know we’ve heard a lot of stories around the opioid epidemic and how it’s affecting many lives in Maryland. And so, what is 211 doing to sort of help support, support that?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (18:42)

Sure. So we, we recently, as a system, received a grant from Twilio to promote and set up opioid texting. So what that does, — It’s going to be 8-9-8-2-1-1 — and then you text the word “opioid.” It’s really for people who are interested in maybe recovery, in looking towards recovery, people who are in recovery or friends and family of those currently suffering from addiction. And so people can text in that number and then it’s posing you with a couple of questions. Like if you want to learn more about what resources are out there or how, what you could do to help your family member or where there’s even like disposal sites for opioids. So there’s also an option to sign up for almost like texting reassurance.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (19:29)

So, maybe as you’re going through that process of recovery, knowing you’ll be getting text messages about, you know, reminding you about an appointment or like making sure that you’re going and encouraging you to go and keep up the work that you’re doing. And at any point, you can engage with somebody via text to maybe talk about what situation you’re in. So there is a live person on the other side of that as well. So we’re trying to get that information out by we’re going to be papering the community pretty soon and kind of those locations where we think people might need it. Then, you know, promoting it kind of through these channels to make sure that we get the word out. We also, when people dial into 2-1-1, there’s one question before you kind of talk to people.

We’ve also partnered with one of the crisis centers that also got a Lyft grant so that when they call, and maybe they want to do inpatient or outpatient or whatever it might be, but if they have an emergent need in that moment, they can also send a Lyft ride to the person right then and there on the spot and take them to the treatment center.

Partner Organizations

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (20:46)

That’s great. And so the reassurance texts that’s for someone who is in a substance use crisis, but it just provides that positive reinforcement for them really to help them keep going right at that. That’s great. That’s really great for folks. So how do you work with, you mentioned nonprofit communities and faith-based, like how do you work with these other nonprofits and faith-based organizations?

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist (21:05)

Well, like I had mentioned, there’s a lot. Sometimes we do them each year. Like the Ben Center. The Benjamin Franklin High School has Ben Fest each year, which I love going to that one each year where local community resources come out and represent. So it’s something to look forward to each year. And then once there, there’s a lot of networking with the other nonprofits that are usually in our database, but sometimes aren’t. It could be just a church and maybe hearing about 2-1-1 for the first time, which I’m still mind boggled. How many times I go to these, I’ve never heard of 2-1-1. Well, we’ve been around, but I’m spreading the word, and then realizing how wonderful a resource it could be to their immediate communities to get connected to resources and to help dot, you know, connect the dots and how to get help. So, we would just, you know, usually, it would be just setting up a table at an event, or sometimes we’re invited to speak, you know, to some community neighborhood associations or other nonprofits who want to hear about what 2-1-1 has to offer and how maybe even sometimes they can get.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (22:11)

Okay. And so, and you mentioned the database…that provides resources and services.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (22:18)

Yeah. So I think we have around, I want to say 14,000 records at this point. It covers everything in the state of Maryland plus a couple of national ones. We want it, and it really ranges from the very localized small food pantry on the corner, all the way to like maybe a national hotline and everything in between. So when people call, they can, and plus those resources are vetted. So it’s not just because it exists. It is in the database. So every year, we’re contacting them, making sure that the resource is up to date. We also have some of the more like sensitive information like funding is in or out right now. So maybe don’t call right now because they are out of funding.

We also update around like summer camps and holiday assistance, some more of those fragile resources that change at the drop of a hat. Like I said, we also have a team of people keeping the database up to date.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (23:11)

So the information that we are giving is the best information and then to make it even better. And I think one of our strengths is that the community works with 2-1-1. So we are partners with the people that we serve and that when they say, well, no, that number is not right or no that place isn’t doing that anymore. Or even sometimes I love it when they’re like, there’s this new place that you guys should check into. So we flagged those resources, and we have it like I said, the team of people that follow up on that information, so that we can keep it as fresh as possible. And we’re always adding new resources to the database. It’s, constantly growing. A living kind of thing that we’re really proud of it. Yeah.
I love when we find something new to offer people like just on the ride here, I might pass a church that says food pantry, and I’m like taking a picture. And I was like, well, cause the food pantry here, do we have a market here? Elaine identified three new resources. Not even kidding. We did it in the hallway upstairs. There was like a Howard County food pantry. I was like, and she was like, do we have that? She’s like a snap.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (24:06)

So with any organization that may not be a part of the 2-1-1 database or government or faith-based and they want to be a part of 2-1-1. Can they just go somewhere? How would they be able to give you information about the resources that they have?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (24:20)

So they just go on to 211md.org and there is a new agency kind of form on there. Or if that doesn’t work for them, for some reason, they’re more than welcome to dial 2-1-1 and just request to be added. I’m like, so you can talk to anybody and we’ll get it to the right person.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (24:35)

Okay. And I know that’s important because the resources that you do have in the database are only as good as the organization and partnerships that have information that you get.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (24:43)

A hundred percent. And we try, and we do some emails and faxes, but we really do try to speak to each one of these organizations. Again, I think that speaks to the relationships that we do build with the organizations over time. So they know that Leticia is going to call them every year and they’re going to ask, and they’re going to chat about what’s going on in their particular agency.
So it does really help to have that personal connection, which I think sometimes it’s undervalued. And I think that that’s what shines most about 2-1-1 is that it’s not just like this transactional conversation. And I think that it’s, it really is like a personal touch. And like, it’s, you’re talking to a person. There’s a lot of care behind it.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist 
Lots of changes over a year, like people in positions change, address change. So it’s important to keep that, keep that as fresh as we can.

Misconceptions About Getting Resources

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (25:32)

And so what are some maybe misconceptions about, you know, getting resources and services in the community or, you know, being able to call an organization to find help. Because sometimes folks may feel like, you know, I may not get the help I need or, you know, no one’s out there for me. What are some misconceptions do you think that’s out there that folks should know shouldn’t be afraid of?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (25:54)

Hmm. I would say, that people are there to help. I think sometimes a lot of these agencies are overwhelmed and that translates – intimate communication. I would say that there is help for everybody not just under a certain income limit. I think a lot of people think, well, you know, I’ve never been here before. I have, you know, I have a job that pays well. I shouldn’t need help, but that’s just certainly not true. I think that people in themselves need to be okay with accepting help. There is help out there. And I think 2-1-1 is a great place to start. I think that’s sort of where our, our, our spot is, is not knowing where to turn to and you can always call us.

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist 

And I think each person that calls has a story and that’s why we’re good listeners too. And every time, everything that someone says, it might not be a financial need, but we can see when we listen to their stories, what to her things can be juggled here or there? What, can we offer to something that they didn’t think about that might change something that there is on the front of their mind? Like if it’s a utility bill, but they’re worried about their rent. You know, if one of those things can get helped out, then it opens up possibilities for other aspects.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland (26:40)

We do follow up every year, just to check-in, to see how the services are going. Are people getting what they’re needing? No matter what happens in their call, maybe they didn’t maybe the services that they called, they didn’t end up using, or someone else, maybe a friend or family member took care of that for them. No matter what happens in the call, they always say, but I really felt listened to. And I, to Elaine’s point, I think that really does make a difference. Like I said, we really try and make this a genuine experience for people it’s important for people to be, being felt and heard.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (27:35)

Right. And so, you know, 2-1-1 United Way helpline is a nonprofit entity. And so if the, you know, that takes funding and to do a lot of the work, great work that you all do. So if there are individuals who are out there in the community that want to help financially and help support the great work that you are doing, how does someone do that?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (27:51)

We are housed within United Way. So they would go to UWCM and donate to 211. But, you know, time is also very valuable. And so if anyone ever wants to volunteer, we also love having volunteers. We certainly, uh, uh, all hands on deck approach. And so if you wanna volunteer, you can also dial 2-1-1, and whoever you speak to just seeing if say you want to volunteer and they’ll get you connected.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (28:16)

Great. Is there any other social media links, or other things that, you know, we want to share with folks that part of the website is the best way to really get it?

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland  (28:26)

Yeah. I mean, you can follow us on Facebook. There is, Twitter. I think we also have the United Way of Central Maryland so you can follow us on social media as well. Okay.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (28:38)

So is there, is there anything else as we are closing that, you know, you want Marylanders to know about 2-1-1 and the great work and the great people that you have with you,

Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Referral Specialist (28:46)

Don’t be afraid to call. Even if you have a question, don’t be afraid to give that number out to someone. It’s just 2-11. It’s one call away to answer lots of questions that someone may have and potentially be of great help.

Brandi Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland 

Yeah. Agreed. I think the takeaway is. I think people should know 2-1-1 is for everyone. It’s not limited to people who just have children. It’s not limited to just people who are under a certain income. It really is for everyone. And we get questions and calls from everybody under the sun, and we’re happy to take them. So I think everyone just keep 2-1-1 in the back of your pocket. When in doubt, call 2-1-1.

Quinton Askew, President/CEO of 211 Maryland (29:21)

2-1-1.. And we’ll just thank you both again for coming out. So again, we have Brandy Nieland, Director of the United Way of Central Maryland and Elaine Pollack, Information and Certified Resource Specialist. So thank you.

Voiceover (29:31)

Thank you for listening and subscribing to What’s The 2-1-1 Podcast. We are here for you 24/7/365 days a year, simply by calling 2-1-1. Also, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. We are Dragon Digital Radio.

Show Links

Energy Assistance: Fuel Fund of Maryland

Ride United: Learn More or Donate

Tax Assistance: CASH Campaign of Maryland

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