Strengthening our community through 2-1-1 with Roni Kendall

National 2-1-1 Day, celebrated on February 11 (2/11), recognizes the compassionate Navigation Specialists who answer the call through the more than 200 2-1-1 helplines across the country.

For more than 25 years, United Way for Greater Austin’s 2-1-1 helpline has connected thousands of Central Texans to local, statewide, and national resources for housing, utilities, food, income support, health care, child care, education, employment, transportation, counseling, disaster information, and more. 

As we celebrate 100 years of community-building in 2024, we know 2-1-1 is crucial to our goal to provide equitable access to resources. So we’re celebrating 2-1-1 Day by recognizing our incredible Navigation Specialists, who champion this service and work around the clock to answer the call for local families and individuals. Just last year, our Navigation Specialists answered more than 200,000 requests for help in our region – that’s one call every two minutes.

Read about the work our Navigation Center does every day to empower our community in our interview with Roni Kendall, one of our dedicated Navigation Specialists.

What brought you to United Way, and how long have you been on the team?

I went to college to be a teacher, and during that time, I volunteered at a crisis hotline. That experience opened up a career in mental health work, case management for individuals on hospice, and more. I’ve spent more than 37 years in social services work, the last six of which have been at United Way. I’m a different person than when I first started here. Working on this team, with the types of calls we get, how we communicate with one another has really had a positive influence on who I’ve become.  When it comes to collaborative efforts in our community, this generation of United Way for Greater Austin is of the highest quality, progressive and proactive. I am more hopeful and inspired day by day.  

What is your favorite thing about working with 2-1-1?

I value connecting with people in their humanity. For individuals in hardship, this is the most real they’ll ever be. There are often waitlists for services, and the thing about 2-1-1 is callers need the service now. Some of the callers are understandably scared or frustrated while asking for financial assistance to stay in their homes or to keep the lights on. There was one woman I was pretty sure was about to hang up on me. I asked questions gently and communicated sincere interest and acknowledgment of her needs at that moment. I extended my respect and kindness for what she’d been experiencing and she stayed on the phone with me.  By the end of the call, her tone had changed.  I could “hear” her smile on the other end of the line. I am so excited when I’m able to connect with a caller. I hope they feel a bit better than when they first call in.

What types of calls do you answer every day?

Individuals call for resources from shelter to legal support, from medical coverage to help with their pets who have passed away. Many individuals call for housing resources. They may be sleeping in their car. Often they have a job, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover rent. And they may be feeling all kinds of emotions. Even though they are not sure of what to do, some are initially hesitant to go into a shelter.  But I let them know shelters provide resources beyond a place to come in out of the cold. Shelters can connect them with services that may provide greater stability and connection to programs that may help. In all my calls, my goal is to assess the situation and build a rapport, and that’s where I can make a difference with someone – through compassion and kindness.

Why is 2-1-1 crucial for our community?

I’ve learned that when it comes to resources, you don’t know what you need until you need it. 2-1-1 is an approach with possible solutions, and it’s a definite resource for hope. We can hear that hope in the caller’s voice while we’re on the phone with them. Many callers say they never expected to be in this situation. 2-1-1 is interconnected with organizations throughout the community – sometimes I get calls from one of our referral organizations we refer to with a client on the line seeking resources from us. It’s a weaving of resource support.

What should others know about 2-1-1?

2-1-1 is like the 9-1-1 of social services. I tell people that if they wonder if there is a program out there that might help them, that’s a reason to call 2-1-1. Know that there are needs, resources, and agencies out there to ease the burden. Give us a chance.


Know someone looking for assistance with housing, utilities, food, income support, health care, or other resources? Tell them to give us a call at 2-1-1 to get connected to help in our community. 2-1-1 is free and available 24/7.

You can help our Central Texan neighbors access resources by supporting our mission. Please consider making a donation today. Our mission to bring our community together to break economic barriers and build opportunity for all is only possible because of you.

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