2-1-1 is your one-stop resource for information
We all know that dialing 9-1-1 will connect you to emergency services in your local community. We know it’s the best resource when someone needs help right away because of an injury or an immediate danger. Many people know that you can dial 4-1-1 for directory assistance (although most of us have stopped using this fee-attached service and simply turned to the internet access we carry in our pockets!) Some of us even know that dialing 5-1-1 will give you real-time travel information and road conditions. All of these resources are available in our communities to empower and inform. There is a resource with a similar concept that too few people are aware of. While it is not for life threatening emergencies, it CAN and DOES provide life saving, life changing information. 2-1-1. Do you know about 2-1-1? If you don’t, you’re missing out on a powerful information resource!
In 2000, United Ways and other non-profits operating helplines successfully lobbied the FCC to make a 2-1-1 dedicated number for people in need of local information and resources. 2-1-1 is the most comprehensive source of local, human and social services information in the U.S. Specialists are available 24/7 to help you access the local resources and services to address any need. Every day thousands of people across the country turn to 2-1-1 for information and support — whether financial, domestic, health or disaster-related. Reaching out to 2-1-1 connects you to the information in your local community that can improve, and even save lives. Looking for supplemental food and nutrition programs? Seeking emergency utility assistance or housing options? Do you need to explore senior services? Transportation options for family members with disabilities? Are you trying to connect to veterans’ services? Looking for targeted support groups? Health care, vaccination and epidemic information? Employment and education services? To this lengthy and diverse list, there is a common denominator. 2-1-1 can connect you with the resources to address all of these issues and more. The 2-1-1 database is constantly updated to reflect current programming and support options. It even captures short term, crisis response scenarios and makes that information available and easy to disseminate. In the recent work stoppage in WV, 2-1-1 was able to provide ongoing and updated information about feeding sites for children. During the polar vortex of February, 2-1-1 was able to provide up to the minute information about warming stations, emergency shelter options, and more. We are blessed in the Mid-Ohio Valley to have a 2-1-1 system in Ohio and West Virginia that is strong and accessible. Your United Way is committed to ensuring that this program is the first, most essential resource to anyone who needs help.
How do we make this system work and ensure that the information is available and that it is current? It is a multi-faceted process that brings many stakeholders to the table to ensure that this robust database is well functioning. United Ways across the nation operate and provide funding for 2-1-1 programs. While 2-1-1 is a United Way program, we do enlist the help of outside service providers to keep the wheels in motion. In Ohio, Pathways of Central Ohio is the call center that takes the calls and connects the resources. We contract with them and utilize United Way funding to keep this service available to Washington County. In West Virginia, 2-1-1 calls actually ring into our United Way office during business hours and then are outsourced to a call center for afterhours calls. In each case, our United Way staff work collaboratively to keep the information up to date. We strive to know the services provided throughout our communities and to fully understand the depth of what is available.
We are fortunate to live in a community where there ARE so many resources. We often hear the comment, “I didn’t even know that service existed.” Non-profits and service based organizations do not typically have marketing budgets; they don’t have the capacity to run PR campaigns to ensure that everyone in the community knows they exist and the nature of what they do. Quite frankly, even if they did have billboards and create TV commercials, most of us would still not notice. As humans we all have a tendency to tune out what we don’t think is relevant. We are so inundated with information that if we don’t think it is something we need, we gloss over it. We don’t need that section…until we do. And when we do…we need it RIGHT NOW. When crisis hits, it is typically unexpected and has rapid onset. Under these circumstances, we do not tend to do our best research or investigation. We may THINK that there should be a service somewhere that would be helpful, but we are not typically clear minded enough to pinpoint that niche program that could make a difference in our current circumstance. ENTER 2-1-1. It is the conduit that connects what is available to what you need, NOW, in YOUR community. United Way fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community. We are successfully leveraging 2-1-1 as a critical partner in our work.
Stacy DeCicco is the executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.