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Call of duty: 

When there's no one-stop shop for all your needs, dial 2-1-1

A woman and her daughter receive a meal at the Marian House soup kitchen, and now they need a place to spend the night.

After another fight, a couple decides they need counseling.

A man upgrades to a Mac computer and wants to donate his old PC.

While these situations seems like they have nothing to do with one another, all people involved can find help in the same place.

In 2004, Pikes Peak United Way launched 2-1-1, an easy-to-remember phone number that connects callers to various non-emergency health and human services available in their area.

"We were the largest community in the nation that didn't have comprehensive community information," says Howard Brooks, Pikes Peak United Way vice president of community impact. "People have needs, and we have the services. When the two don't connect, that's a sad thing for the community."

Originally founded in 1997 by United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, 2-1-1 is now active in 40-plus states. The program links 198 million people nationwide to a multitude of services, including food banks, shelters, medical information, counseling, employment services, child and senior health care, and mentoring programs.

In 2006, the 2-1-1 program assisted more than 20,000 people in Colorado Springs. Currently, about 90 percent of Colorado has access to 2-1-1, and individual counties are working to reach areas without coverage.

While focusing on the broader needs of the community, 2-1-1 also provides information to those willing to help.

"If people want to donate their items, their money, or their time, we can direct them," says Brooks.

The program has steadily gained recognition. In 2000, at the request of the national 2-1-1 Collaborative, the Federal Communications Commission reserved the 2-1-1 dialing code for community information and referral services. In 2005, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., joined forces by writing the "Calling for 2-1-1 Act," legislation that would provide federal funding for nationwide access to 2-1-1. The act, which was reintroduced to Congress in January, would establish at least one call center in every state.

Even with government attention, Brooks says a constant challenge for 2-1-1 is still informing the public about its services. Pikes Peak United Way has raised awareness through fundraising activities and TV ads, but according to Brooks, nothing beats word of mouth.

"Everyone who hears about 2-1-1 should tell two other people," he says. "That's how we'll get the word out."

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