United Way urges community to utilize 211 call center
Lauren Williams Staff Writer
Especially in the midst of the current economic climate and the recent government shutdown, many across the nation are searching for assistance. However, there is often no clear direction to those helpful and sometimes desperately needed services and resources. In Sampson County, however, United Way has helped to provide a compass with its 211 call center and its board members hope more in the community will take advantage of the help that’s just a phone call away.
“Many times the first step in receiving help is knowing who to call. The 911 is for emergencies, 411 is for directory assistance, and 211 is for finding community health and human service resources,” explained information provided by United Way.
“It’s such a good resource, a good starting point to get that direction,” echoed Nancy Carr, executive director of the United Way of Sampson County. “A lot of the time and with a lot of people, it’s just a matter of they don’t know where to turn.”
According to Carr, that lack of and need for direction was particularly evident in the late 1990s. “North Carolina opened the door for United Way to use the 211 number in 1999, after Hurricane Floyd tore through the eastern part of the state,” she said, adding that the American Social Health Association established five call centers with access to databases containing information about the numerous resources available in different areas of the state.
However, it wasn’t until last December that Sampson County’s 211 call center was established, a service made possible through the local United Way’s partnership with the United Way of North Carolina and numerous successful fundraising efforts.
Although available for close to a year now, Carr shared that the 211 call center still seems underutilized.
“It’s a 24-7, 365 day a year call center where people who call will speak with a live, trained person who can assist them and help them identify agencies and programs right here in Sampson County that may can help them,” described Carr, adding that bilingual operators are available. “Most calls take less than five minutes.”
“We would really like to raise awareness of this tremendous free resource available to our community,” she continued. “We also encourage our agencies to place a link on their website as it may reduce the number of phone calls they receive and offer another service to their clients.”
Dialing 211 is a step in the right direction for those seeking information about services and resources such as food, housing and utilities; child care and education; finances and credit counseling; health care; job training; counseling and support groups; mental health and substance abuse; senior services; volunteer opportunities; disaster services; and much more. Currently there are more than 140 of these resources listed for Sampson County.
“Imagine a mother of four who just moved to the area to be near her elderly father,” shared Carr. “She wants to know what services are available for senior citizens, what programs are available for her children, and where to get food assistance. The 211 service connects her to a live, trained operator who can direct her to the right services, saving her time and frustration.”
And utilizing the 211 call center not only helps individuals at the time when they call but it also helps the community as whole, Carr pointed out.
“The county will also receive monthly reports on what services people called for most often, which may help identify areas where the community needs more resources,” she explained.
To take advantage of the help available through the 211 call center, interested persons can dial 211 directly, search online at www.211nc.org, or connect with community services via the NC211 iPhone app.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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