Inside the United Way of South Carolina with CEO Kelly Callahan Cruise

Mollee D. Harper

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

South Carolina CEO sat down with Kelly Callahan Cruise, President and CEO of the United Way Association of South Carolina, to learn about her work supporting 24 local member United Ways throughout the state. During our one-on-one, Cruise provides insights into her focus on SC 2-1-1 for the past decade, and how they are leveraging technology and a new phone app to provide additional avenues for people in need of assistance, to connect with services in their communities.  Cruise also provides details about her leadership role and focus on streamlining access to health and human services statewide.  

Inside the UWASC

The United Way Association of South Carolina is headquartered at 300 Arbor Lake Drive, Suite 100, Columbia, SC, 29223.  In addition to serving as the member association for SC United Ways, UWASC is also the state’s lead agency on volunteerism and national service, as the South Carolina Commission for National and Community Service. Since 2007, Over $15.1 million federal dollars have been matched with local dollars to implement local AmeriCorps programs focused on improving education, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, disaster response, veterans and military families, and healthy futures. UWASC also operates one of the largest 2-1-1 contact centers and United Way state associations in the country.

Cruise shared, “I have been a part of the United Way Association of South Carolina since 2010, starting with leading an initiative called Volunteer SC. Having served as a Commissioner for the SC State Service Commission and having an extensive background in volunteer management, I traveled the state promoting best practices utilizing volunteers.”

She continued, “The previous CEO wanted to expand our 2-1-1 service and asked me to oversee that expansion. The rest is history. We grew that team from a staff of 8 to approximately 200 people. We have seen the tremendous, positive difference this growth has had on the citizens of our state and remain really excited about the work we are doing with SC 2-1-1.”

“We are not your typical non-profit. We’re not your typical association, and we’re not your typical United Way. We are a combination of all of them. First and foremost, we are the member arm for the United Ways in South Carolina. Our mission is to maximize the capacity and reach for our 24 local, independently governed member United Ways throughout the state, and extend the services they are able to offer to their communities. Additionally, another key part of our mission is to streamline access to health and human services, such as food banks, aide during disasters, rent assistance, and more.”

Cruise continued, “We also do a lot of work in the public policy arena, striving to make positive societal change systemically. Our tenets are based on the belief that the building blocks of a good life must include quality education, good health and financial stability.  Our work focuses on efforts in improving these areas. For example, we have a strong focus on improving early childhood education, so all SC children get a really strong start in life.”

Cruise shared her personal experience and the driving force behind her commitment to the community. She said, “When my daughter was tiny, I was on Medicaid and WIC. I know what it’s like to need assistance.  Becoming the President & CEO, being able to now help folks that need those services and do it with an intention of respect and dignity, is a big deal to me.  As I share with my 211 agents, while you may not always be able to help the people that call on us for assistance, you can always, always provide a kind voice on the phone. Sometimes that’s all we can offer on that particular day and sometimes, that simple kindness, carries more weight than we can possibly know.”

New App for SC 2-1-1

SC 2-1-1 provides assistance to all SC citizens needing to connect to agencies and programs in their community.  It is available 24/7, 365 days a year.  Calling 211 connects people to trained agents who have access to a database of over 4,000 agencies and 16,000 programs.  This statewide SC 2-1-1 program is free, confidential and accessible by phone, website, chat and a new mobile app.

Cruise described, “Our 2-1-1 app is our newest technology; it was officially launched last week. We’ve found with so many people using smart phones, adding this access point to search for assistance at their fingertips was necessary and long overdue. A lot of people don’t have computers, but they do have phones. Right now we are trying to get the word out about this new app, so South Carolinians can start taking advantage of this new technology and extended service.”

She continued, “We had some recent publicity in Horry County regarding our new app, and as a result there were over 500 new downloads within a 24-hour period!”

Cruise explained, “We are also leveraging technology to extend our reach in other ways. We use data analytics to examine trends in community needs, as well as, track the areas where needs aren’t being met.  We can do this down to the zip code.  It is using data in the best possible way, to better SC for its citizens.  And no, we don’t sell any of data we gather.  Any data we do share is only general metrics and statistics – call volume, highest need, etc.  I am also excited to share we are beginning the talks around utilizing AI (artificial intelligence), chatbots, etc.  I can’t wait to see where this technology will take our work!

2016 Report - Statistics for SC 2-1-1

Access To Health Care Calls


Food Insecurity Calls


Central Appointment Calls


Community Resource Calls


Outgoing Calls/Texts


Total Calls


Cruise offered, “We handled more than 3.5 million contacts including calls, text messages, chats and more last year. Our contact center is one of the largest 2-1-1 centers in the U.S. In addition to handling calls within our state, we also handle calls for other national programs that benefit SC. As an example, we are one of only 10 centers nationally that assist the CDC in the event of a pandemic or flu outbreak.”

2016 Report - Types of Calls Statistics for SC 2-1-1

Access to Health Care


Food Insecurity


Central Appointment Line


VITA Program Sites


Utility Payment Assistance


Rent Payment Assistance


Food Pantries


Homeless Shelter


Low Income/Rental Housing


Senior Services


Home Rehabilitation


Prescription Expense Asst.


Trans. Housing/Shelter




Community Clinics


Rental Deposit Assistance


Legal Counseling


General Dentistry


Household Goods


Disaster Preparedness Info


“Additionally, SC 2-1-1 is one of 16 centers nationally that work with United Way Worldwide to help individuals who are in danger of being human trafficked.  And our assistance when disasters occur has been a key component of our work, especially in the last couple of years.  Through the historic floods of 2015, as well as, during Hurricane Matthew, 211 was there for our citizens 24/7, both during the storms and in the aftermath.”

Cruise added, “We make sure all of our agents who work on the phone are ASIST Certified.  UWASC is now offering this important training at their Training Facility and classes are available for groups or individuals to become ASIST certified.

“UWASC collaborates with a multitude of partners.  An important example of this was commissioning the ‘Self Sufficiency Standard’.  The purpose of this study was to really see what it takes for a family in SC, to make ends meet, or be ‘self-sufficient’, without public or government assistance. It is comprehensive with over 150 family types and zip codes. This has been huge help for our legislators to review and see where they can make their biggest impact in helping our citizens find pathways to self sufficiency.”

Kelly Callahan Cruise Bio

Cruise concluded, “As a mother of three, and someone who once needed community assistance, I believe in teaching my children to fight for social justice through action and commitment to community.”

Kelly Callahan Cruise serves as the President and CEO of the United Way Association of South Carolina. She has been with the association since 2010 and has over 15 years of experience in non-profit management. Cruise leads one of the largest 2-1-1 call centers in the country, and one of the largest United Way state associations in the network. Cruise is a member of the American Society of Association Executives, United Way Worldwide, Together SC, The Blue Ridge Institute, Women in Philanthropy and is a Riley Fellow from Furman University.

For more information on United Way Association of SC, visit their website at:

Local United Ways in SC

For more information on the 24 member United Ways serving communities throughout SC, visit their websites at: