United Way Debuts 2 1 1 Help Line

November 15, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — With the debut of its new 2-1-1 number, Heart of West Michigan United Way is looking to extend a helping hand to the community.

Last Tuesday marked the debut and inaugural call of the United Way’s new 2-1-1 assistance number.

In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission designated 2-1-1 as the universal number for information and referral to social services. The number can link individuals seeking help to resources such as family counseling, senior services or parenting resources. Callers also can find out about volunteer opportunities in the community.

When a caller dials 2-1-1 he or she is connected with a trained United Way resource specialist who asks a variety of questions to determine which community services may be available to address the caller’s needs. Currently the number is only available from a landline phone; the use of cell phones is being investigated.

The 2-1-1 system is designed to provide callers with information and referrals using an extensive database of community resources. There is no charge for the service.

United Way also has formed a partnership with Life EMS in order to provide 24-hour assistance to the community. Mark Mossing, director of the board of Heart of West Michigan United Way, noted the call service would be transferred to Life EMS’s phones during non-business hours.

“After 5 p.m., on weekends and holidays, the Life EMS staff will answer the phones to make it a more 24/7/365 service,” he said. “The staff will also be trained by the United Way staff to make for a seamless transfer.”

Life EMS also will offer backup power during power outages and two Spanish-speaking staff members are available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Before the debut and partnership, all calls were run through United Way’s phone number under the “First Call For Help” banner, but were answered only during work hours.

With the new specific number and around-the-clock service, Kathy White, vice president for United Way Community Services, said the organization expects calls to increase by as much as 40 percent.

“Last year, First Call For Help assisted more than 28,000 callers. With the ease of United Way’s 2-1-1, we expect to see that number almost double,” she said. “Currently Michigan is one of only 17 states in the country to implement the 2-1-1 number and we are the second location in Michigan.”

Funding for the program is provided in large part by the Steelcase Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Alticor, Sebastian Foundation and Slemons Foundation.           

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