Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 16, 2014

United Way's 211 answers call for help

Hotline sees 26 percent increase in calls taken in 2013.

By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — The organization that more than 18,800 area residents turned to for help in the past year was recognized Tuesday.

Mayor Greg Goodnight proclaimed Feb. 11, 2014, as 211 United Way of Howard County Day, and the agency held an open house to showcase its services. 211 is a comprehensive informational and referral service that connects people with available resources to meet their needs.

The local 211 hotline is a branch of the United Way of Howard County and takes calls from Howard, Tipton, Miami, Clinton and Cass counties. The past year put the local 211 center to the test with a flood and tornadoes hitting the area; more than 1,700 calls were taken in the week after the tornadoes.

“I’m proud of the staff. We’ve hung together through thick and thin this year,” said 211 United Way of Howard County director Cheryl Graham.

Graham highlighted some of the developments at 211 in the past year, including a new phone system that allows the service to field more calls, new database software that connects the local 211 system with centers across the state and new “pre-reach” initiatives.

“It’s kind of a signature thing we do,” Graham enthusiastically explained at the open house.

The first “pre-reach” initiative focused on making sure callers had access to food. Regardless of what services people requested, 211 operators also asked about their food situation and completed food assessments for 9,349 households.

With the start of 2014, 211 centers statewide launched a pre-reach Healthcare Project to make sure people have information on how to get the health insurance they need.

The 211 database also is available online at www.referweb.net/uwhc so the general public, professionals and agencies can access information on available services from across the state whenever they need it.

“This is the 21st century way of us communicating with each other and giving our clients the most up-to-date information,” Graham said, adding the local 211 center completed its Alliance of Informational and Referral Services accreditation in 2013. “You’re getting top notch service from us based on national criteria.”

The top needs from 211 callers in 2013 were for food/meals, housing/utilities and clothing. More than 30,800 referrals were made throughout the year, and 44 percent of calls came from first-time users. 211 operators follow up with callers after their initial request and 71 percent of them reported their issue had been resolved.

“211 is able to give us a real time, accurate picture of what our neighbors face,” said Abbie Smith, president of United Way of Howard County.

Chuck McCoskey, assistant chief for Howard County’s alcohol and drug probation program, shared how useful 211 has been for the people he works with.

“What you do is a blessing and helps so many people in our community,” McCoskey told 211 staff. “The resources are there. We’ve just got to connect them to those resources. You do.”

Education reporter Lauren Fitch can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at lauren.fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.

Top 10 caller needs from 211 United Way of Howard County - Food/meals: 2,157 calls - Housing/utilities: 2,129 calls - Clothing/personal: 1,164 calls - Information services: 1,077 calls - Volunteers/donations: 1,019 calls - Family support: 893 calls - Health care: 881 calls - Legal/consumer safety: 533 - Transportation: 424 - Disaster services: 418