County United Way launches 211 service

STEUBENVILLE – The new Jefferson County 211 Information and Referral program was set to be formally introduced this afternoon at a press conference hosted by United Way of Jefferson County Executive Director Beth Rupert-Warren and United Way of Stark County Director of 211 and Government Relations Sherri McKinney-Frantz.

“We had a few technical challenges, but they have been overcome and we are prepared to announced a successful program we hope will be used and appreciated by the residents of Jefferson County,” McKinney-Frantz said.

Rupert-Warren has been busy in recent days driving throughout the county to make test calls to the 211 center in Canton.

“The system is now operational. We have worked with ATT and Comcast to prepare for today’s unveiling. There may still be a few businesses with more than 12 phone lines that will not be able to dial 211. But anyone who can’t call 211 can call the toll-free number at (866) 542-0394. It will be free and confidential information and referral information for local community resources here in Jefferson County,” said Rupert-Warren.

“We will be able to offer referral information to agencies who can offer information on rental assistance, utility assistance, the location of food pantries and hot meal sites, clothing help, free tax preparation sites, resources for emergency help, information on medical, dental and mental health clinics and suggestions for assistance with mortgage payments and information to avoid foreclosure

“The 211 system will connect individuals, families and professionals to the information required to meet the needs of the residents of Jefferson County. And it will provide our resource agencies a list of services that people are looking for in our communities,” said Rupert-Warren.

“The Herald-Star is printing 10,000 flyers for the 211 program that I am distributing to every school in Jefferson County. I hope every child in the county will take a flyer home so we inform every residence of this new program,” she added.

“I am very excited about the launch of the 211 program. We will be the 55th county in the state to participate in the program. And, like many other counties, we will be teaming up with an existing 211 program. This launch has been in the works for at least a year and I am very happy to see it become a reality today,” Rupert-Warren declared.

The 211 center in Canton will be updating its information on a regular basis. Once someone calls the 211 center, the appropriate information will be texted, e-mailed and provided verbally to the caller,” Rupert-Warren said.

McKinney-Frantz said she will use today’s press conference to thank every individual and organization “who has made today possible.”

“Someone seeking help or referral information can literally pick up a phone in Jefferson County and will be talking to an operator at the 211 center in Canton. Our operators will always ask the ZIP code and age of the caller because some agencies help certain ZIP codes or ages. We have already been getting a few phone calls and I am very excited to start seeing more calls to our center,” stated McKinney-Frantz.

“The faces of our callers in Stark County are changing and I believe it is probably the same in Jefferson County. We are receiving telephone calls from people who never needed help before. Now we are receiving requests from people who have lost their jobs through the economic downturn. They have used up their 401(k) savings, maxed out their credit cards and may be facing foreclosure. They usually start the phone call with, ‘I really don’t know what you do but I was told by a friend to call you.’ I have had 60- and 70-year-old men cry on the phone because they don’t know where to turn,” related McKinney-Frantz.

“We are going to provide that help through an immediate referral. People won’t have to make 15 phone calls trying to find the right agency. We can direct them to the right agency through just one phone call,” said McKinney-Frantz.

“And, I am very pleased to state we have more than 150 agencies in Jefferson County who we can refer callers to once they call 211 or the toll free number of (866) 542-0394,” said McKinney-Frantz.

“National statistics indicate we will see 5 to 7 percent of the Jefferson County residents calling the 211 number or the toll free number at (866) 542-0394 in the first year. We anticipate those calls and look forward to them. And we will be open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” she remarked.

“The 211 program eliminates confusion about who to call and eliminates complicated searches through phone books and thousands of misdirected phone calls trying to find the right social service agency to meet the callers’ needs. 211 provides help for our most vulnerable residents, those who are elderly, disabled, illiterate or new to the community and easy access to services that can meet their needs,” McKinley-Frantz noted.

“The program can help direct some non-emergency, non-police related calls that are related to a caller’s need for heath and human services away from the area’s emergency 911 lines. It is estimated that many calls to 911 are for non-emergency related matters and often tie up the lines designated to handle police and fire rescue emergencies,” said McKinley-Frantz.

“I believe so much in the United Way and the 211 program because need can happen to anyone. It may not be you but it may be a sister or cousin, a neighbor or a friend,” cited McKinney-Frantz.