United Way of Asheville and Buncombe's 211 History

For more than 50 years, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County (UWABC) has operated an information and referral call center, speaking directly to our neighbors as they navigate a life crisis. Though its name has changed during that time – from a Help Line and First Call For Help, to 211 of WNC and finally NC 211, we have been honored and humbled to serve the people of our community and state.

As many of you know, as of June 30, 2023,  United Way of North Carolina consolidated the NC 211 call centers, bringing all 211 services into their own facility.  While we mourn the change in our role, and the loss of our team mates, we will continue to promote and support this critical statewide service and our colleagues at UWNC.

As we prepared to honor this history, we did some digging in the archives and found some wonderful gems. Many of these stories were known, several had been long forgotten, but all provide important testimony to the legacy and leadership of this community and our influence on the rest of the state. 


This should come as no surprise, as we were the first United Way in North Carolina, but we were also the first to offer an informational and referral service in the state as well. However, UWABC’s history of offering information and services may have even started earlier than our official start in 1972. As we dug in the archives we found this gem from 1957, where the “United Appeal” (our name at the time) advertised that those looking for help should call us at ALpine 3-3321. 

What struck us in those old newspaper clippings was the role we played as an example to others across the state. In the early 1970s, the NC Secretary of Human Resources came from Raleigh to see how the state could replicate what we were doing here in the mountains and representatives from Charlotte came here to see how they could pattern their call center after ours. 

In the early 2000s, First Call for Help became the first information and referral service i North Carolina, and the fifth in the nation, to be accredited by AIRS, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems which certifies that a center operates using the highest and best practices. Around that same time we became the first of four pilot 211 Call Centers in NC and after months of advocacy with telecommunication services, the first 2-1-1 call by cell phone in our county was made by County Commissioner, Nathan Ramsey in the UWABC conference room.


No matter the name 211 went by, or the technology we used, at the heart of our work is a commitment by our extremely dedicated staff to provide authentic listening, human connection, and resources to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. This dedication extended from moments of personal crisis to those that impacted our whole community including historic and devastating flooding that happened during the many hurricanes that hit our state and the onset of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

NC 211 has been and will continue to be a first call for help. We are proud to have been such an integral part of the story and creation of this essential community resource. Here at United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, we wish to honor all who helped create this incredible service. From volunteers and board members, to those that donated, and especially those who answered the calls. Thank you for your role in supporting this work through the years and for your continued support and use of this vital resource.



Caller Testimonials 


“Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, you’ve broken down all the steps I need to take into baby steps and now they don’t seem as scary.”

“You have no idea what you have done for me today. I am so grateful. You've given me hope. Thank you for what you do. I wish more people were as kind, understanding, and knowledgeable as you have been.”

"I am so thankful to have a person to talk me through all of this. I had a stroke and I cannot do this all by myself and I am so thankful you are there at 2-1-1.


  • 1971-72 As a result of a Buncombe County needs assessment and with funding from United Fund of Asheville (this was our name back then) a Volunteer Services Bureau and a 24-hour Help Line is established as an agency
  • 1978 United Fund of Asheville assumes operation of both the Volunteer Service Bureau and Help Line. Later this service will go by the Information and Referral Help Line, First Call for Help, 2-1-1 of WNC, and eventually the NC 211 Asheville Center.

    During that time 7,255 calls were received. In addition to regular I&R calls, the service supported the following agencies in the extension of their services after hours, weekends, and holidays: Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, Blue Ridge Community Mental Health (Buncombe, Madison, Yancey, and Mitchell Counties), Council on Aging, District Court Counseling, Buncombe County Health Department (Home Health Service), Family and Children’s Division and Adult Divisions of the Buncombe County Department of Social Services, Salvation Army (Traveler’s Assistance), and Helpmate (victims of domestic violence).

  • 1989 The I&R Helpline is changed to First Call For Help.
  • 1990 Call volume grows to 15,000 and First Call For Help gets a new number: 252-HELP. With this, services include telecommunications devices for the deaf.
  • 1993 First Call For Help handles 18,000 calls and developed an outreach program using a donated van and computer to post at locations throughout the community; improved access to its database for schools and outside agencies through new computer software; installed a new phone system.
  • 1995 First Call For Help is recognized with the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Service, answering more than 20,000 calls that year.
  • 1997 The first operational 2-1-1 is initiated in Atlanta
  • 1998 With a grant from the Community Foundation of WNC, we expanded our phone lines and handled 30,000 calls.
  • 2000 The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 2-1-1 dialing, stating: "We find that the Information & Referral Petitioners have demonstrated sufficient public benefits to justify use of a scarce public resource and we therefore assign 211 to be used for access to community information and referral services."
  • 2000 First Call for Help is the first information and referral service in North Carolina, and the fifth in the nation, to be accredited by AIRS, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems. This will prove to be the first of five, five-year accreditations that the center will achieve in subsequent years.
  • 2001 First Call for Help becomes the first of four pilot 211 Call Centers in NC.
  • 2003 2-1-1 WNC expands its services to Henderson County and launches an online accessible database.
  • 2004  2-1-1 WNC adds Transylvania County to its service area.
  • 2007 2-1-1 WNC expands to include service to Madison County.
  • 2008 After months of advocacy with telecommunication services, the first 2-1-1 call by cell phone in the county was made by County Commissioner, Nathan Ramsey in the UWABC conference room.
  • 2011 Celebrated the 10th anniversary as 2-1-1 WNC.
  • 2012 2-1-1 WNC expands to include service to McDowell County.
  • 2013 2-1-1 WNC expands to include service to Polk County and Rutherford County As a result of a merger with United Way of North Carolina to create a statewide 211 system, our name becomes the NC 2-1-1 Asheville Center.
  • 2015 NC 2-1-1 Asheville Center expands its service range from 7 to 16 counties in WNC.
  • 2019 On the heels of statewide recognition by Governor Roy Cooper for NC 2-1-1’s high-quality service during recent historic flooding events, NC 2-1-1 was also recognized by AIRS - the accrediting body for call centers across the nation. This recognition was, in part, for our role in efforts to develop strong communications protocols between the 2-1-1 call centers and NC Emergency Management during a natural disaster. The protocols designed were used throughout recent flooding events and saved lives.
  • 2020 With the onset of a worldwide pandemic, NC 211 once again was called upon by the Governor to serve as a crisis line. Locally, our center director was embedded with City and County emergency response teams to coordinate response and relief efforts.
  • 2021 - 22 the second of NC 211’s two call centers decided to end their participation at the end of 2021. UWNC decides to create their own call center within the UWNC offices and as part of the transition our Asheville Call Center expands to cover the western half of NC (50 counties)
  • 2023 In February 2023, United Way of North Carolina’s Board of Directors made the decision to close the Asheville NC 211 Call Center by June 2023 and assume full responsibility for this work themselves as a way to streamline service delivery and reduce overall costs.