“For me, 2-1-1 was the path to restoring my life. Sometimes I think, ‘What if I had never made that call?’”
It’s easy for Shalisa, the Highmark Foundation-funded Women’s Veteran Specialist at PA 2-1-1 Southwest, to relate to the many callers she talks to everyday. She proudly enlisted in the US Army at age 18 and served honorably for more than 15 years in the Army and Navy Reserves. Her time in the military matured her and prepared her for a long career in social services, when she’d often call 2-1-1 on behalf of her clients. “I knew how to help others,” she says, “but that all went out of my head when I needed help myself.”
Shalisa lost everything in just two months’ time: Her fiancé unexpectedly died, she lost her job after her car was totaled in an accident, and she and her daughter were facing homelessness. She was reluctant to call PA 2-1-1 Southwest, but she knew she was caught in a knot she couldn’t unravel by herself. The Resource Navigator referred Shalisa to Project Journey, a United Way-funded program for homeless female Veterans and their children. Within days, she and her daughter were safely housed and receiving services that helped Shalisa get back on her feet. When she saw the posting for her current position at 2-1-1, she knew she wanted to join the team that had given her back her life.
“I want Veterans to know that there’s someone at 2-1-1 who understands what they went through.”
Shalisa recently spoke to Stacey, 59, an Air National Guard Veteran who had a lead on another job, after being laid off, but didn’t have bus fare to go for the required physical exam. Shalisa referred Stacey to Vet Net, a United Way-funded transportation assistance program for job-seeking Veterans, where she found the help she needed. “I asked about her MOS—that’s Military Occupational Specialty—and she just relaxed. I was speaking her language.”
Shalisa has a 90% success rate in her follow-up calls with Veterans. “I know what it’s like to put on that uniform, to raise your hand and swear to lay down your life. That’s a big commitment,” she says. Military service leaves an indelible mark. “It’s like we instantly know each other because we share that experience,” Shalisa says of her callers. That’s a connection that makes a difference.