United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Month: August, 2013

211: A Vital Community Resource

by Kellie Cochrane


A crisis can happen at any moment.  An eviction notice, a prescription that’s out of your price range, or an empty refrigerator with 1 more week until pay day.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure where to turn.  In our community, the answer is 211, the easy to remember phone number that connects people to the resources they need in times like this.

In Kalamazoo, 211 is housed at Gryphon Place, and in Battle Creek it is located in the HandsOn office.  Both places have call specialists waiting, these specialists are trained to help people get in touch with the best resource for their particular need.  This involves a community wide sharing process: in order to provide the best information, 211 has to regularly communicate with local agencies to stay up to date on programs they offer.  Call specialists also have to know the process and requirements for all programs, to make sure they’re referring people who qualify for the help.

211 has also been an effective tool for natural disasters.  When Battle Creek was hit with severe storms 2 years ago, 211 was responsible for reporting damage and helping people find assistance near them.  Both the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek 211 Centers are AIRS accredited: Alliance of Information and Referral Systems.  It is much more than just answering the phone, it’s a constant training process to stay up to date with all the services in our community and to be able to do the best job possible when assisting those in crisis.

Jamie Rugg, 211 Program Director, in Battle Creek says the impact of the program is twofold: “Residents are empowered to find the resources they need and also are advocated for by staff members when needed.  We’re also able to provide data about need gaps and trends.”

211 allows our community to see what needs aren’t being met, and work toward creating programs for those, while also tracking the most common needs in our community.  Most importantly, 211 helps people in times of need and provides easy access to all the wonderful programs we have in our region.

Principal El: “A dream without a plan is a hallucination.”

by Kellie Cochrane

Yesterday, Principal Salome Thomas – El spoke to some of our supporters at the Gilmore Car Museum.  Principal El has been a powerful advocate for education for over 20 years and is the author of the best-selling book, I Choose to Stay.  He shared his story of working in inner city schools and how he uses chess to give students intellectual confidence.


Principal Salome Thomas – El

Principal El opened with something he shares with his students: “A dream without a plan is a hallucination.”  He spoke about the power of mentors, how we must teach our children to plan for their future, even when they fail along the way.  He congratulated our region on our early grade reading turnaround, going from 5% of students reading at proficiency level to 82%.  One of the things he asks parents at his school in Philadelphia is to simply read with their children, because he knows the change that can bring is astounding.

Principal El also reminded us that: “We have 7 million minutes to help our kids from pre-K to high school, and we can’t afford to waste one.”  He believes we have a responsibility as a community, to see our kids graduate, to help them to be successful, and most importantly, to teach them how to respond to failure.  There will be times they fail, there will be students who come to school every day at a disadvantage, which is why it takes all of us coming together to provide the support every child deserves.

Our United Way supporters were both moved and inspired by Principal El’s message.  He definitely reminded all of us how truly important our work in education is.  We’d like to offer our sincere thanks to him for coming to speak with us and, for his hard work and passion for all children.


A well deserved standing ovation!