February 11 is national 2-1-1 Day, in recognition of the free, user-friendly phone and online system that serves 90% of America's population, and connects some 16 million people a year to critical resources, information and services.

In California, 1.4 million callers turn annually to 2-1-1 for help, and 2-1-1 also responds to over one million Web queries from people seeking resources. People call or search 2-1-1 looking for resources to meet basic needs, like heating or utility assistance, shelter, emergency help, or to find the closest food bank. They also called for everyday important non-emergency needs, such as developmental screening for a child, home health care for a relative, job training or free tax filing support.

2-1-1 is not only a phone service, but also increasingly uses the Web to serve clients, including helping low income families get online. In many parts of California, 2-1-1s have been actively working to bridge the Digital Divide. According to the Social Science Research Council's "Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities" (March 2010): "Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it--and residents of low-income communities know this."

While California is a leader in technological advances worldwide, and continues to make strides, many families, individuals and children in California are being left behind; primarily Latinos, low-income households and people with disabilities.

According to research by the Public Policy Institute of California,:

2-1-1 referred Maria Martinez of Fresno, CA to low-cost broadband offers in her area as part of 2-1-1s effort to Get Everyone On! This campaign initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and supported by the California Emerging Technology Fund supports outreach and referral to services as low as $10.99/month for high-speed Internet access. Now, Maria’s daughter “doesn't have to wait for her dad to take her to the library [to do homework].” Allison, another 2-1-1 client, found affordable home broadband access so her two daughters could use the Internet for homework and school projects, and she finds that it’s a “great way to keep in touch with her family and also look for employment in her area.”

2-1-1 was launched by United Way almost 20 years ago as a free way to connect people to essential resources. Today, 2-1-1 is available in all 50 states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico. In California, 2-1-1 service is available in 34 counties, serving over 94% of the state’s population. Programs like the broadband awareness and adoption campaign encompass one of many strategies that 2-1-1s take to make sure those most in need don’t get left behind as technology continues to evolve. “2-1-1 is an essential tool for helping people take better care of their families, and also to making more efficient use of a community’s nonprofit and public resources,” said Larry Olmstead, Chair of the Board of 2-1-1 California.

In partnership with the United Way system of California, 2-1-1 California has been able to assist nearly 8,000 families enroll in low-cost broadband services throughout California over the last four years. High-speed Internet in the home is a pivotal gateway to ensuring that families have access to health resources, such as insurance through the state’s new health care exchange, educational supports, employment resources and opportunities, and more.

So what happens with a 2-1-1 call? When you dial 2-1-1 (for free), the call is routed to a trained information and referral specialist, who helps identify your need(s), then refers you to relevant human services, health or education resources from a comprehensive database. For example, in the case of a worker who has recently been laid off or whose hours have been reduced, the 2-1-1 specialist may share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, food stamps, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling and other available resources.

2-1-1 California is the statewide network of local 2-1-1 information and referral providers, and is a collaboration of United Ways of California and the California Alliance of Information and Referral Services (CAIRS). The mission of 2-1-1 California is to ensure that California develops the statewide infrastructure and support necessary to ensure quality 2-1-1 services for everyone.

Media Update: February 12, 2014

KPCC, a local National Public Radio station, published a piece on 2-1-1 Day encouraging Latino families to get connected to broadband services. Here's a link to the article, including a public service announcement featuring Los Angeles Dodgers' announcer Jaime Jarrin.