211 makes life saving connections through United Way & partner agencies

“Everything went beautifully! Can’t say enough about the support Midland has given me. I was able to keep my home insurance since you guys were able to assist with my roof. Everyone went above and beyond! I can’t even tell you how appreciative I am.” This is what just one homeowner shares after receiving assistance through the LIFT program.

211 of Northeast Michigan and United Way of Midland County have partnered to launch the LIFT program (Leveraging Income for Tomorrow) to provide resources to support projects for individuals and families who would otherwise struggle to pay for repairs and specific bills. 211 facilitates this essential program while United Way of Midland County serves as its backbone. Helping people on the path to self-sufficiency, 211 typically works with those that are one big bill behind, such as a mortgage, rent or utilities. In some cases, they will help for more than one month. Expenses such as car repair or a new roof are approved on a case-by-case basis. Because they are not able to pay for a brand-new roof in full, 211 works with community partners who can work with businesses to provide the materials and labor at a lower cost. This makes it possible for the agency to serve more people without depleting their funds. As of now, at least five new roofs have been installed through the program.
Will Wright is the connections manager for 211 of NE Michigan.
“LIFT was started roughly before COVID and the flood hit,” says Will Wright, Connections Manager for 211. “United Way had a vision of what’s going to happen, like they just saw something coming with everything that was going on in the world at that point in time. So, they got funding from the (Charles J.) Strosacker Foundation, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation – and that was really how it was brought to fruition. We assist (the ALICE - Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed - population) with rent, mortgage, rental deposit, utilities, dental care, car repairs, and we just added propane.” Often, if a choice must be made between purchasing food or paying a bill, food wins. 211 offers food assistance and encourages people to reach out if they are in the position of choosing between buying food and paying a bill as there are several resources to help with food in our area.
Chiara Cameron Wood is the executive director of 211 of NE Michigan.
Since the program launched, more than 568 people have been served through the LIFT program and $196,395.82 in funds have been distributed. “What I think is really interesting about this specific program is that we are leveraging existing relationships. We go to a partner in the community that provides a service, and they use their relationships that they have to get discounted labor, supplies and things like that. We are not duplicating the channels that exist and I think that is really important. We are just finding different ways to use those channels, to be able to leverage them beyond the scope that a lot of people can manage because of those federal poverty lines. The people who are distributing funds are also limited because the funds that they receive come from the federal government and the federal government says ‘you can only use funds for these people that make this kind of money or are in these situations.’ So, we’ve come together in a very deep partnership with United Way and other partners to serve these people in that resource desert,” shares Chiara Cameron-Wood, 211 of Northeast Michigan Executive Director.
Holly Miller is the president and CEO of the United Way of Midland County.
“ALICE families are hardworking people often working more than one job but struggle to make ends meet. They have incomes above the poverty line but struggle to afford basic household necessities and often don’t qualify for help. They are vital to our economy and are vulnerable to economic challenges,” adds Holly Miller, United Way of Midland County President & CEO.

Wright explains that to receive this support, individuals will call 211 and participate in a standard intake. Call agents look for key factors such as the caller making too much money to qualify for help from DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) but does not make enough money to pay a specific bill or fund an immediate need. Call agents then turn over a drafted report to Wright and he does his own intake to see which partner agency would be the best fit to serve the caller.

"We have partnered with Home to Stay, Salvation Army, Caregiving Network, Great Start Collaborative, and Helping Hands. Once I approve them, I send (the caller’s) information over to the partner agency, letting them know that they qualify for help with funding,” Wright states. The partner agency then connects with the original caller to assist. Once the transaction takes place, 211, through United Way, reimburses the partner agency. “The LIFT (program) is focused on building trust and relationships with a population that is hard to reach while providing new financial resources that didn’t previously exist. For the many individuals and families that may be struggling, there is new help and hope available to help you navigate the storms of life,” Miller says. “United Way of Midland County is committed to measuring and supporting the ALICE population. In the most recent report, Midland County saw a 37% increase in our ALICE population between 2019 and 2021. This was the first data that illustrates the impact of a global pandemic and a 500-year flood. This information drives our urgency on escalating and expanding innovative solutions that stabilize this vital population, moving them from surviving to thriving.”

This program is still in its pilot stage, but with continued support and collaboration, 211 is hopeful that it is here to stay. If you feel that you could benefit from LIFT or need food assistance, don't struggle alone, dial 211.

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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and held positions at Dow, Northwood University, Midland Area Community Foundation, Shelterhouse and Youth For Understanding. Currently, Carly is working as the Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Relationships at Holy Cross Services while completing her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at carlylillard@gmail.com.