From left: 211 Resource Awareness Day panelists Chad Frey, Julie Kennedy and Kevin Ressler (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)
From left: 211 Resource Awareness Day panelists Chad Frey, Julie Kennedy and Kevin Ressler (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)

Panelists taking part in Friday's 211 Resource Awareness Day, a statewide event hosted by United Way of Lancaster County, repeatedly affirmed the necessity and value of the 24/7 helpline network, which connects callers to social services and resources in their communities.

While the first two sessions — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's keynote address and the following conversation with state legislators and leaders — dealt with legislation, advocacy and policy, the rest of the day's sessions focused on the nuts and bolts of 211 and social services generally.

Diversity & Equity: Getting Started and Starting to Expand

The final morning session delved into diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically through a United Way lens.

Moderator Aiza Ashraf, director of equity at United Way of Lancaster County, invited the three panelists to talk about the equity work their United Ways have engaged in and are planning.

United Way of Lancaster County president and CEO Kevin Ressler discusses equity within an organization during 211 Resource Awareness Day on Friday, February 11. (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)

Kevin Ressler, president and CEO of United Way of Lancaster County, talked about its recent decision to add an extra vacation day to the calendar for staff to use on non-Christian holidays.

Equity, both within organizations and in public, starts with making small adjustments to say, "I see you," Ressler said.

In reference to racial equity, he said, "It is our moral responsibility to make sure that our comfort doesn't come at the expense of someone's existence."

Michael Tukeva, president and CEO of Pocono Mountain United Way, talked about vaccine equity, crediting his organization's vaccine outreach program with contributing to over 12,000 Monroe County residents becoming fully vaccinated since September.

All three presenters touched on the importance of lifting up the equity efforts that are already happening in the community. Adrienne Mael, president and CEO of both Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and United Way of Montour and Columbia Counties, talked about collaborating with the Coalition for Social Equity to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance, as well having equity consultants come in to work with her staff and policies.

Rebecca O'Shea (middle), advocacy engagement coordinator at United way of Pennsylvania, presents about the ALICE population during 211 Resource Day on Friday, February 11. (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)
Rebecca O'Shea (middle), advocacy engagement coordinator at United way of Pennsylvania, presents about the ALICE population during 211 Resource Day on Friday, February 11. (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)

"ALICE" (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed): Who Are They and How Can We Help?

Moderated by Amanda McNaughton, member services manager at United Way of Pennsylvania., this session kicked off with a presentation from United Way of Pennsylvania's advocacy engagement coordinator, Rebecca O'Shea.

"ALICE" refers to the 27% of the Pennsylvania's population that is above the federal poverty level but doesn't have financial stability. Including those living under the poverty level, nearly 39%, or 2 out of 5 families, are struggling to survive, said O'Shea.

O'Shea's presentation included representative "survival" and "stability" monthly budgets, demographic breakdowns and findings from an August 2020 Covid-19 impact survey.

One of the study's principal findings was that 70% of respondents indicated employment changes, which "reiterates the point that ALICE is an essential population when it comes to workers," said O'Shea.

The session's other presenter, Gayle Young, executive director of United Way of Lawrence County, talked about how that data is being implemented within community housing and transportation programs and United Way organizations.

Zachary Sherman, executive director of Pennie, presents about an upcoming program in the state's healthcare marketplace during 211 Resource Awareness Day Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. (Source: United Way of Lancaster Conty)
Zachary Sherman, executive director of Pennie, presents about an upcoming program in the state's healthcare marketplace during 211 Resource Awareness Day Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. (Source: United Way of Lancaster Conty)

Pennie Virtual Presentation

Pennie is the healthcare marketplace for Pennsylvania, created by Act 42, a bipartisan piece of legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019.

About 1 in 20 Pennsylvanians don't have health insurance, said Pennie executive director Zachary, noting that the counties with the highest concentrations of uninsured people are Philadelphia, Allegany and Lancaster counties.

Pennie outreach manager Scott Yeager spoke about the open enrollment period that recently finished. Pennie's enrollment stands at 374,766 and customers have an average monthly premium savings of $449, he said.

Sherman announced an upcoming program called "Path to Pennie," which will invite taxpayers filing their state returns to indicate if they'd like more information about healthcare coverage.

Chad Frey, president and founder of Partnership Planners, LLC, explains how the new information and referral software will work for 211 during 211 Resource Awareness Day Friday, February 11. (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)
Chad Frey, president and founder of Partnership Planners, LLC, explains how the new information and referral software will work for 211 during 211 Resource Awareness Day Friday, February 11. (Source: United Way of Lancaster County)

211 Referral Tracker: Pioneering the I&R Model

211 Resource Awareness Day wrapped up with a session detailing the rollout of new 211 information and referral software.

The United Way of Lancaster County's PA 211 East is piloting the new system. It's intended to offer greater flexibility and functionality, allowing "closed-loop, interoperable and no-wrong-door referrals" by 211 and local service providers, said Chad Frey, president and founder of Partnership Planners, LLC.

Fundamentally, Pennsylvania's 211 call centers have been and remain committed to a person-centered approach, said United Way of Lancaster County's Julie Kennedy, who is the coordinated entry manager for the Lehigh Valley region's Continuum of Care.

That philosophy underlies the intensive training that call center staff receive, she said: Information and referral specialists not only learn about available community resources but receive instruction in active listening, rapport building, trauma-informed care and de-escalation.

Olivia Smucker