2-1-1 volunteer answers the call and lights the way

Published on December 14, 2021 in , , ,

Lynne Goodman in Greece

Lynne Goodman retired from DTE Energy in 2018 with dreams of traveling the world.  

The former nuclear engineer mapped her ultimate destinations – highlighting must-see historic points of interest and must-try restaurants. But in early 2020, while on a trip to Greece with her niece, the growing pandemic halted her travel plans and rerouted her life. 

While we were in Greece, the U.S. started to close the borders to travelers from Europe,” Lynne said. It was a mess coming home on the first day extra screening was required for U.S. citizens returning from Europe.” 

It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands of people were becoming ill across the globe. By the time Lynne returned to her home in Monroe, life as she had known it was forever changed.  

We were in full lockdown. People were afraid of getting sick, and they were struggling with job loss, hunger, school closings, everything. It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” Lynne said. 

Shortly after her return, Lynne lost her father to the virus. Months later, her mother also lost her COVID battle. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Lynne became determined to help others in any way she could. 

She volunteered for her first United Way 2-1-1 helpline shift in March 2020 after seeing the opportunity on our volunteer portal. Nearly every week since – for more than 160 total hours over 18 months – she has settled in front of her computer to take calls from people in need. As a volunteer, she focuses on COVID-19 questions, connecting callers with needed resources and providing information about testing sites, vaccines and more. 

Photos of the parents Lynne lost to COVID-19

Increasing capacity 

Calls to 2-1-1 are answered around the clock, every day of the year. We brought in volunteers to assist with the influx of COVID-specific calls so that full-time 2-1-1 team members could continue to manage the hundreds of requests we normally receive every day for utility assistance, food, shelter and other basic needs.  

United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 team serves callers from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Monroe and Washtenaw counties and makes more than 250,000 referrals to services each year. Before the pandemic, 2-1-1 operators handled an average of 500 calls per day. At the height of the pandemic, the number doubled to more than 1,000 daily calls and at times reached more than 1,400. 

It was all-hands-on-deck,” said Tamara Bolden, senior director, call center operations at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. She expressed her appreciation for the 2-1-1 volunteers. Not only did they help manage increased call volume, but they also made it possible for my team to have a break. An extra 10 or 15 minutes off the phone can do a lot for morale when the calls are constant and callers are under added pressure due to fear and stress.” 

Lynne said it’s not just her helping callers – the support goes both ways.  

Before volunteering, I felt powerless to help people impacted by COVID,” she said. When I started with 2-1-1, it made me feel good that I was doing something. My life had more purpose.” 

This summer, when devastating floods hit the region, Lynne volunteered once again to direct people to resources and assistance.  

The idea of Living United is community supporting community,” said Eric Davis, vice president, basic needs, health and outreach at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. In our darkest hours, to have community members step up to help their fellow community residents, that’s the difference between having a generally high quality of life in our region and having people constantly suffering.” 

The power of people coming together makes Eric hopeful about the future despite ongoing obstacles. 

The willingness of people to step up and be a part of the solution – I think it was one of the more powerful expressions of our mission that that we saw over the past 24 months,” he added. 

Every call counts 

As a nuclear engineer for more than 40 years, Lynne is a natural problem solver.  

She said she is proud to have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of every caller on her line. At one point, she even searched her home for scrubs to mail to a caller who could not afford to purchase their own for work.  

You do the best you can to help every single person,” she said, reflecting on a conversation with a caller who had gotten lost on their way to a vaccine appointment. It’s not the call you expect to receive – someone looking for directions – but when you hear the desperation in their voice, you do whatever you can to help.  

When she made it to the appointment, she was so happy and grateful. It was a really good feeling.”  

Lynne said 2-1-1 provided her an ideal opportunity to help others while staying safe at home.  

In the beginning, we thought we would only need 25 to 50 volunteers to manage the extra call volume due to COVID,” Tamara said. As time went on, we found volunteers to be such a valuable resource that we’re recruiting on an ongoing basis. Some are retired, others are still working, but they all have valuable history and experiences that add to our culture.” 

The lessons learned during the pandemic will improve the way 2-1-1 operates long-term. Virtual setups vastly improved the team’s productivity, according to Tamara. They’re also exploring new ways to deepen existing relationships with partners to ensure callers receive real-time information and updates when it matters most.  

Doing more. Giving more.  

With travel restrictions easing, Lynne is back to globetrotting – most recently visiting Africa and Switzerland. When she’s home, she continues to volunteer with 2-1-1, settling in at her computer with her favorite snacks and answering the calls. 

Even when Lynne is not volunteering, she finds other ways to give back. 

I grew up in a family where we were told that if you’ve got enough, you should give to others,” she said. 

Over her lifetime, she has donated to organizations that support education, the arts and more. When her husband passed away, she started a scholarship program for culinary arts students at Monroe Community College to honor his lifelong love of food.  

It was United Way’s commitment to education and basic needs that motivated Lynne to donate to our organization through payroll deduction for more than 30 years. Since retiring, she has continued to give, particularly to help those impacted by COVID. 

United Way does an incredible job of helping people by making sure donations are directed to the people who need them most,” she said, encouraging others to give back what they can afford. The more people that donate, the more people that can be helped.” 

Gifts from donors like Lynne help to ensure that our important work — like keeping our 2-1-1 phone lines open 24/7 — can continue. To make a donation this holiday season, click here