Help Is Just a Phone Call Away

People never know when they’ll encounter a human service need in their lives, but 2-1-1 is there to provide resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 2-1-1 helpline is a service funded by United Way of Southern Chautauqua County that connects people in need to organizations that can help them. Trained operators are available 365 days a year to connect callers to help for employment issues, legal and financial concerns, or even basic food and shelter needs. The biggest plus: the calls are free and confidential.

“The convenience of this service really sets it apart,” said Tory Irgang, executive director of United Way of Southern Chautauqua County. “This is a free call that connects the caller to an information hub of services to meet immediate basic needs. A lot of people are simply not aware of the services that are out there. A simple phone call is all it takes to better someone’s life.”

Locally, United Way has a long history of providing information and referral services dating back to Project DIAL and First Call for Help. In 2007, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County became one of the leaders in a national movement to utilize 2-1-1 as the single point of access for human service questions. Today, over 283 million Americans, or 90 percent of the entire U.S. population, have access to 2-1-1 in their community.

In 2011, an opportunity presented itself to join with other call centers in Western New York to form a regional hub. Today, 2-1-1 Western New York covers Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Wyoming Counties. There are more than 3,000 organizations and 15,000 services listed collectively in the databases.

“Working with other United Ways throughout the region was a great way to maintain this service for local residents and share the costs,” said Irgang. “Because of the strength of the database, operators can answer from anywhere in the region and accurately refer to a needed service.”

Last year, 1,063 phone calls inquiries were made by residents of southern Chautauqua County.

And while we know what 2-1-1 is, we also know what it is not. 2-1-1 is not for emergency services. Instead, it complements 9-1-1 by taking calls about urgent non-public safety needs, like food and shelter. 2-1-1 helps lessen the burden of non-emergency calls and saves callers time by offering guidance and referrals to organizations specializing in providing emergency food, shelter, clothing and crisis counseling.

“It’s important that people realize that this service is not for emergency purposes,” said Irgang. “2-1-1 is not 9-1-1, and vice versa. What this service does is free up some of those non-emergency calls, while at the same time connecting people to services quickly and efficiently.”

The 2-1-1 Western New York database is also available online at www.211wny.org, and there’s another toll-free number available too at 1-888-696-9211. For more information about the program, you can contact United Way of Southern Chautauqua County at 483-1561, or visit them online at www.uwayscc.org.

2-1-1 Western New York is one of many community services supported by United Way of Southern Chautauqua County. When you donate to the 2013 Campaign, you’re helping connect individuals with life-changing services that better their lives, and ultimately our community.