It’s always nice to know that you’ve helped someone at the end of the day.
R: What are the most common things people call about?
A: Rent and utilities are a big one. Prices keep going up. So it’s always difficult to make sure you can pay the bills.
Another would be transportation. Sometimes people just can’t afford transportation, but they have to get to a medical appointment or to the grocery store to buy food for their family. Other times, they don’t want a solution or need resources, they just want someone to hear their story and to listen, to feel for them. And that’s what we do.
We are here to listen and to help as best we can.
R: Does that take a toll on you emotionally?
A: It can sometimes. A while ago there was a call from a woman who had just lost her husband. Before that her child had died. Now she had all these expenses she had to take care of. My heart broke for her.
It’s tough when callers have a loved one pass. All these bills coming in; two incomes down to one. And you’ve got everyone breathing down your neck for money. It’s heartbreaking.
It does feel good when we can give them a resource that will help them.
R: Are there always resources to help?
A: Not always. When it comes to some situations, we try to troubleshoot with them, to look outside the box. They’re focused on one thing, but if we allocate funds from another place, that could work better. They could get help with a water bill from an agency, which might allow them to save money for a car payment.
R: So it’s like a puzzle?
A: Sometimes. That’s why we are always searching for new resources and programs to help the community out.
R: Are the callers usually grateful?
A: Oh, yes. Sometimes we have people call back weeks or months later to thank us. We say those are the paychecks. It’s validation for why we do the job.
We get people who are very gracious that someone is there to give them direction when they don’t know where to go.
R: What have you learned over the past 10 years?
A: Everyone is different, but we all want the same things. We all want to be happy. We all want to be secure in the knowledge that we can pay the rent and put food on the table for our family. We may come from different places—West Des Moines, the East side, the South side—but we all want the same thing.
I’ve also learned to be patient and empathetic. Even if callers are frustrated, we make sure they know we are on their side. We are here to help.
R: It sounds like the job can be difficult. What do you do to blow off steam?
A: I ride my motorcycle. I am part of a volunteer group called BACA, Bikers Against Child Abuse. It’s really cool to see a child go from withdrawn and scared to bossing around a bunch of bikers. When we leave, they are back to being just what they are supposed to be—a kid.
I guess you could say I like to help people.
R: (Laughs) Maybe just a little. So, to end, what should people know about 2-1-1?
A: If you need help, if you are looking for resources, give us a call. It never hurts to call and at least ask. We’re here to help, 24/7.