09/06/07 — United Way grant could help bring 211 service to county

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United Way grant could help bring 211 service to county

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on September 6, 2007 1:45 PM

Officials might soon have the means to create a 211 information system in Wayne County thanks to a United Way grant.

The United Way of North Carolina received a $50,000 grant from Bank of America in late August designed to be used to help the organization further implement 211 systems statewide, with immediate focus on Wayne, Onslow and Craven counties.

A 211 system allows officials to provide health and human service information directly to residents at the touch of a button, United Way officials said.

"It reduces the frustration and time locating services for the individual," said Jim Morrison, president of the United Way of North Carolina.

The system offers services including physical and mental health resources; employment resources; support for the elderly and disabled; support for children, youths and families; and volunteer opportunities.

The perks with the 211 system are its cost, availability and helpfulness.

The system is free, available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year and multilingual.

"It's for everyone," Morrison said. "Anybody with a land line can access the information in a confidential manner."

The system also offers residents access to information online, he added.

"The other part of the service will be a N.C. 211 database which is interactive, so people from Wayne County who didn't want to call could go and search for services online and find the resources they want," he said.

Wayne County 211 stations will receive monthly reports to close the gaps between what services residents receive and what they need or want.

"The system also reduces calls to 911 and other service providers," Morrison said.

Although 911 is supposed to be used for emergency services, he said the 211 system operators receive many emergency calls as well, picking up where the 911 system leaves off.

"Emergency kinds of needs -- financial services, food, shelter -- are our highest volume of calls," he said. "We get more calls about those type of basic need areas than anything else, but we get the whole gamut of service calls."

Last year, the system helped thousands of people in the state to seek help, whether it was to find affordable accommodations, child care or financial counseling.

United Way hopes to increase the system's outreach to more than 60 percent of state residents by December, Morrison said.

"Our objective for next year is to get the system to three-fourths of the state population," he said.

Before this year, the system did not cover east of I-95, leaving the entire state's coastline, where most hurricanes occur, out.

That began to change in February with Robeson County implementing the system. Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover counties should have it by the end of the year.

With the new system, the state's eastern residents will no longer be left disconnected from communication.

"Its potential to help in terms of disasters is very great because it is an easily remembered number for people when they hear it," Morrison said. "It has an even greater potential once we get it in more areas east of 95. Eventually, our goal is to get it for all 100 counties in the state."

As the system spans out in the state, the coverage area in the nation is also increasing.

Currently, the system serves about 65 percent of the nation's population, which is about 198 million people, according to the 211 Web site, and by the end of next year, the system is estimated to reach 80 percent of the population.

The United Way has been able to extend the 211 services to more counties, but funding is not always easy to get.

"We are going to push forward as much as we can, but it takes resources to get it done," Morrison said. "This grant is so helpful because it helps with those resources."

Wayne County United Way Executive Director Steve Parr said funding is also an issue with implementing the system in Wayne County. Having the system actually set in place has not yet been discussed, he said, and the organization has no final plans as of now.