Do you have a need for some type of human service, and don’t know how to access that service, or where to find information about service providers? Try 2-1-1! This number is a nationwide service that utilizes an extensive database to connect callers with information and a multitude of services related to their expressed needs. The concept for this nationwide network was proposed to the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 by United Way of America and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (a professional membership association for information and referral providers which offers individual certification and provider accreditation). The 2-1-1 number is easy to remember and offers free and confidential services to callers. It can be especially helpful for older folks who were not raised with the internet, those who may not have many community connections, or who prefer the anonymity of the telephone to personal contact.
2-1-1 is available to callers of all ages, and can provide information and referrals to a wide variety of services. Some examples are as follows:
• Support for older persons and those with disabilities who may need transportation assistance, Meals on Wheels, or adult day care
• Support for children, youth, and families looking for after school or mentoring programs
• Basic human needs such as food banks or affordable housing
• Employment support including job training and education
• Physical and mental health resources such as support groups, crisis intervention services, and health insurance information
• Volunteer opportunities
In 2013, nationwide calls to 2-1-1 numbered 15.6 million. Funding for this program is provided by United Ways, community foundations, the government, local businesses, and private individuals. Currently, 91% of the American population has access to this service, including more than 80% of Pennsylvania’s population. The South Central PA area covers Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntington, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, and York counties. The parent agency for our area’s 2-1-1 service is CONTACT Helpline, which has been providing information and referral services to our community since 1970. This service operates 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
The United Way of Pennsylvania has compiled a list of 50 ways that 2-1-1 can or has helped people in numerous different situations, including natural disasters, emergencies, personal crisis, and victims of crime. It has been utilized by professionals to locate assistance for their clients and provide an after-hours contact, and by the government to share educational information and as a data collection system. For the complete list, visit http://211us.org/benefits.htm.
Prior to writing this article, I placed a call to 2-1-1 to determine what a consumer’s experience might be like. It was answered by a recording after the first ring, and directed me to push #8 for assistance, after which a friendly individual picked up after one ring and patiently answered my questions about the service. Based in Harrisburg, she has worked in the field for 8 years, and her advice to folks who would call is to be as specific as possible about their needs, so that the staff can provide accurate information and appropriate referrals.
Karen Kaslow, RN