Have you, a family member, a neighbor or a friend ever needed assistance and didn’t know where to turn? Did you ever wonder where you could find home services for an elderly parent who wants to remain independent or utility assistance for a co-worker’s family?
It’s easy! Just pick up your phone and dial 2-1-1. NC2-1-1 is a free, multilingual, 24-hour United Way helpline that's available 365 days a year. Now available in about 90 percent of the United States and in every county in North Carolina, 2-1-1 is a number that has been reserved by state and federal governments to provide residents with basic health and human service information.
Operated by United Way of North Carolina, NC 2-1-1 became a statewide system late last year. Calls now made from either land lines or cell phones are directed to a call center either in Durham or Asheville. Calls are answered by trained call specialists who determine what specific needs are being communicated by the caller. The call specialist then refers the caller to an agency or agencies in their geographical area along with information about eligibility criteria, contact information and hours of operation. The actual agency service information in our four-county Cape Fear area is constantly updated by experts here in Wilmington. This database is carefully monitored so the call specialists are referring callers to agencies that they know are providing the most appropriate services in our area.
In addition to providing ongoing assistance to individuals looking for information, 2-1-1 plays a critical role in local disaster recovery. For example, the 2-1-1 services in New Jersey and New York were used by both state governments to inform residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy about non-emergency services as they became available. Resources such as mass feeding sites, water distribution and shelters were critical to residents for weeks following the storm. Here in the Cape Fear area, the 2-1-1 service will be updated regularly by United Way staff who play a critical role in disseminating information during and following an event, and who help man the New Hanover County emergency operations center during disaster recovery. Because our call centers are located outside of our immediate area, they can provide information while being out of harm’s way, with backup call centers on standby if needed. This attention to the United Way 2-1-1 helpline also frees up emergency responders served by 911 to focus on life-threatening emergencies.
Not in a hurry, but want to find out what services are available in our area? Log on to NC211.org for access to the agency resource database and use key words to locate appropriate services. Many service agencies and school personnel use this resource to print off potential services for their clients and students’ families. In addition, you can download the NC2-1-1 app to your smartphone or iPad for on-the-spot help if needed.
Support for NC 2-1-1, and most 2-1-1 systems throughout the U.S., comes from local United Ways. Typically, local United Ways also handle data updates by using United Way staff or volunteers, or contract the work to another organization. Support for the expansion of NC 2-1-1 to the most remote counties in the state has come from Duke Energy and several private foundations.
There were approximately 100,000 calls made to NC2-1-1 in 2014. Many callers were looking for assistance with utility payments or rent. Call volume has increased every year as more people become aware of this free community asset, and the quality and accuracy of the service database has continually improved. It’s important, however, to remember that 2-1-1 is for non-emergency, basic health and human service needs. As always, 911 should be utilized in the case of a true, life-threatening emergency.
So the next time you hear of someone looking for some assistance, refer them to 2-1-1. Help is just a phone call away!
Christopher L. Nelson is president of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area, a local nonprofit organization. Since 1941, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area has worked alongside local agencies in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties to assist them in providing substantial and sustainable change within the Cape Fear area. To learn more about the United Way of the Cape Fear Region, go to https://uwcfa.org/ or call 910-798-3900.
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