The Chattanooga landscape in 1982 was in stark contrast to the city we see today but the winds that would bring that change were starting to blow. The leaders whose names are etched in history as agents of these changes were the active in the United Way, their commitment to change in their community resonating in their service. Icons like Mai Bell Hurley, Dalton Roberts, and Scotty Probasco were joined in this work by UWGC Board Members like Reverend Robert Keesee, Moses Freeman, Gerald Mason, Howard Roddy, Jr. and Jim Hill.
Crisis, hunger, and security can affect anyone, anytime and the United Way has been the conduit to connect citizens throughout the service area with the resources they need for almost 100 years. This work was formalized in 1982 as the Community Help Line, a service that continues today at 2-1-1. The stewards of this program were Mai Bell Hurley and Rev. Robert Keesee who served as Chair and Vice Chair of an advisory committee and under Rev. Keesee’s tenure the committee helped to coordinate the services of local agencies, and support groups, churches, and synagogues to meet the needs of residents in the three-state region.
Mai Bell Hurley’s lifelong commitment to Chattanooga and its people changed the landscape of the city forever. A powerhouse behind the Vision 2000 project, she was a member, advisor, or champion of almost every organization in the city. She was a founding member of some of the city’s most impactful organizations, was the first woman to be elected to Chattanooga’s City Council and, in 1988, was the first to serve as United Way’s campaign chair. Through Vision 2000, she helped steward Chattanooga’s growth and was influential in creating the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise.
Rev. Keesee, one of the architects of this program, is a prolific writer, an Elder at AME, Nashville and is still celebrated for his contributions to equality, equity, and race relations during a turbulent time. In 1971 students led a series of peaceful protests and sit-ins to bring light to the exclusion of Black students and discriminatory practices in the Murfreesboro School Board and petitioned Rev. Keesee for his support. His guidance helped them gain a voice on student government and history was made.
Pioneering civil rights and amplifying the voices of underserved people are characteristics that are shared by these otherwise disparate early leaders, reflected in the programs they created and services they fostered throughout the community. The program’s name and phone number have changed with the times, but the mission has remained constant to serve as the source for community resources and assistance.
Whether citizens connect by phone, text or email, free, confidential resources are just a caring voice away, with the program staffed weekdays from 8 am – 5 pm. Community Resource Specialists are trained to help callers navigate the maze of human services with information about food, housing, employment, education, health services, eldercare, and other crisis hotlines. With a database of over 10,000 providers, this comprehensive network is the community’s connection to services with all calls free and confidential. Community Resource Specialists are available by phone, text and email support callers in identifying the resources they need.
To learn more about 2-1-1 and how they can be reached, click here.