Want to try something new? We’ve got the 2-1-1

By Lynn Urban

Special to the Herald

When was the last time you tried something new by choice? A new path to walk the dog, a new restaurant? New doesn’t have to mean scary or difficult, it is often something good.

As the new CEO for United Way of Southwest Colorado, many things have been new for me in the last month. Taking on something new helps you to see connections you did not see before and to have a richer understanding of the community around you. It has been a positive experience, akin to a breath of fresh air.

I would like to share something that may be new to you. In case you haven’t looked for a while, you should know that your Colorado tax form has changed. A check box was added last year to allow you to voluntarily contribute money to 2-1-1.

Dialing 2-1-1 gives you confidential referrals to housing, food, health and other important but non-emergency needs. Certified referral specialists work to find the best solutions for each caller. They help callers navigate the sometimes confusing and disparate resources that are available in the community. Specialists are trained to assess individual situations and can often identify more comprehensive sources of assistance than a caller might be able to identify on his or her own.

2-1-1 also has proved especially valuable for at-risk members of our communities. For example, 2-1-1 call centers also have been able to step up in times of disasters to handle non-emergency, yet important, calls for assistance (for example, “Where can I take my pets during a fire?” “Where can I find temporary housing?”). Additionally, the 2-1-1 system works efficiently to connect volunteers to organizations that need assistance. During June 2012, Colorado experienced several significant wildfires, and the 2-1-1 system fielded more than 10,000 calls statewide from people seeking disaster information, assistance or volunteering to help.

The 2-1-1 resources can also be accessed 24 hours each day online at swconnect.org (with enhanced information for Southwest Colorado, thanks to SWConnect) or at www.211.org.

This valuable service, which is available in all 50 states, is made possible through collaboration between United Way and human-services organizations across Colorado. It is a massive task to keep the information up-to-date and to handle all of the incoming calls. The collaborative effort is primarily supported by donations.

If you would like to try something new this month, consider checking the box on your Colorado tax return to contribute and help maintain 2-1-1. Alternatively, you can contact United Way of Southwest Colorado to make a gift to this program at 247-9444 or www.unitedway-swco.org. Try something new today: Call 2-1-1, check the box on your tax return and take your dog on a new path.

Lynn Urban is president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado.