ATLANTA - Delta airlines employee Stayce Michelle knows just how high life can soar. But more than 15 years ago — making $10 an hour and struggling to survive — the single mother was at a turbulent low.
"I was in an abusive relationship, and I decided to leave; I'd had enough. So I took me and my small child, my son Marcus, and we decided to try to do things on our own," Michelle says. "I was deciding what bill was going to get paid. Were we going to have lights for two weeks? Were we going to be without hot water? Was I going to be riding around in my car without insurance?"
And when that unreliable car broke down, she ended up on MARTA. And that’s where Stayce Michelle saw the sign.
"I happened to be riding on a train and seeing a sign for 2-1-1. ‘Need help, resources? Call 2-1-1.’"
United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center was created in 1997. It was the first of its kind in the country, a place where people in need could be connected to vital community resources.
"When people contact 2-1-1, our top needs are eviction prevention assistance, food assistance, utility assistance," says 2-1-1 Contact Center Vice President Donna Burnham. "We are a comprehensive information and referral service, so just about anything you can think of."
Here in metro Atlanta, the center was averaging nearly 550 contacts per day; then came the pandemic. Requests for rent assistance shot up from just under 23,000 in 2018-2019 to nearly 53,000 over the past year.
"Some months we have received a 90% increase in contacts," says Burnham.
But with 2-1-1 now also available online, through live chat and text, and even through an app, staffers say every call — in every language — is answered.
"I remember being at home and got to the point where it was just really, really hard, and I said, 'Let me call,' because I was in tears,’" remembers Stayce Michelle.
She says that less-than-10-minute call led to life-saving financial assistance. And now, as a tireless advocate for 2-1-1, she hopes others will feel comfortable reaching out for that same helping hand.
"Take away the shame. If you need help, don't think about having the shame. Just calling 2-1-1, they don't even ask your name; they won't even know who you are, they're not even questioning why you're calling. They are there to help."
For more information on United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center, click here.