2-1-1 In the News
Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro)
211 help line vital link for residents
By JENNIFER CATHEY
Anyone taking calls at First Call for Help/211 knows when bills are about to come due, when school starts or when Christmas is getting close.
That's when calls to the United Way hotline's phones start ringing off the hook, said project director Betsy Turner, who often answers the phone herself.
"There are times it can be very busy. There are times when you are constantly taking one call after another," she said. "You can always tell when rent is due. If it's the beginning of the month or week, a situation might have arisen over the weekend."
Around this time of year, Turner said, many of the calls revolve around helping families get enough school supplies for their children.
"School supplies are something we've been getting calls for," she said, adding that the agency puts the caller in touch with people who can help.
The majority of the First Call for Help/211 calls fall under the umbrella of financial need. Those answering the phones have contact information for organizations that offer food assistance, utility assistance, rent assistance, clothing, shelter and even counseling services.
Originally, First Call for Help was a seven-digit phone number for people in the Rutherford County area that needed assistance. Last August, First Call for Help/211 was created regionally — 13 area counties are included — to facilitate calls from both people with needs and people with means wanting to help them.
"It's just an easy-to-remember, three-digit number for one-stop shopping for services," said United Way President and CEO Tom Starling. "It's for people with no means and deep needs.
"It's also for people with means who need to donate furniture or want to adopt a charity for the holiday. We can link people who want to make those donations or volunteer with the most needy organizations."
The original 211 number was invented by the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta in 1997 and has grown nationwide since then. First Call for Help/211 in Middle Tennessee has been fielding calls for almost a year.
In the first six months of it's existence, the region-wide organization fielded more than 25,000 calls. Rutherford County accounted for about 15 percent of those calls.
"The majority are from Nashville," Starling said.
One of the goals of First Call for Help, Starling said, has been to answer any calls within 20 seconds. So far, they've been able to issue 82 percent success rate in answering in a timely manner.
The phones are answered 24 hours, Starling said, including evenings and weekends. Calls are free and confidential.
If children under the age of 12 are in the home, Starling said, a follow-up call is given to make sure the family has received the help they need.
The organization is also endeavoring to always answer calls in whatever language is necessary.
"If they call, and they speak Spanish or Kurdish, then we can connect them to where they can have help given in a preferred language," he said.
The First Call for Help Web site — www.firstcallforhelponline.org — provides links to dozens of organizations ranging from Hospice to mental health resources and more. You can find local help agencies through the United Way's Web site at www.uwrctn.org/agencies.html.