STEUBENVILLE - Sherri McKinney-Frantz sat in the 211 Information and Referral Center in Canton talking on the telephone to an 8-year-old girl who was looking for a hot lunch for her mother, brother and herself.
"She told me they haven't had good food for a long time. Then she told me her little brother was starting kindergarten and didn't have any good clothes. We were able to refer them through our 211 program for immediate help. That's what makes the program so efficient. We bring all of the resources in a community together to make finding help easier for those in need," related McKinney-Frantz, the director of 211 and Government Relations of the United Way of Greater Stark County.
McKinney-Frantz is working with Nancy Jo Grim, executive director of the United Way of Jefferson County, to add Jefferson County to the 54 Ohio counties that already have a 211 program.
REFERRAL PROGRAM — The United Way of Jefferson County has launched a 211 initiative to centralize a telephone referral system for county residents. Reviewing plans for the nonprofit service are, from left, Nancy Jo Grim, executive director of the United Way of Jefferson County; Ross Gallabrese, United Way of Jefferson County board president; and Sherri McKinney-Frantz, director, 211 and Government Relations of the United Way of Greater Stark County.
"I am proud to announce we are launching a 211 initiative in cooperation with the Ohio United Way and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in order to improve supportive services to people in need throughout Jefferson County. The 211 Information and Referral is a program that impacts services by providing referrals and vital data that better equips us to make more informed decisions on serving specific unmet needs in our community," explained Grim.
According to Grim, the Jefferson County 211 program will route free telephone calls through the Stark call center.
"The 211 program is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Callers to 211 will be fully informed of all nonprofit organizations and agencies which can provide a variety of services to people in need. They will actually have more information about Jefferson County than anyone could ever want. We will not refer any calls to an organization or agency that operates for profit," added Grim.
She said the first year of the 211 program will be funded through a $22,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
"After that. we will be funding the program at $20,000 a year through local grants and donations and our local United Way," noted Grim.
She added McKinney-Frantz will discuss the fledgling Jefferson County 211 program at the campaign report luncheon set for Sept. 27 at the YWCA.
"It will be a great opportunity for people to learn more about the 211 program," said Grim.
"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.
"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 nonemergency, nonpolice 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 nonemergency related matters and often tie up the lines designated to handle police and fire rescue emergencies," said McKinley-Frantz.
"We know we have under-utilized services. This program will allow us to coordinate local resources through a cooperative effort. The 211 program will also allow us to see trends in local needs immediately and we can track where funds are needed," remarked Grim.
McKinney-Frantz said the application to include Jefferson County has been filed with the Alliance of Information & Referral Systems.
"Once that application is approved, we will start working on the technical aspects of setting up the 211 program in Jefferson County. Our timetable calls for a Feb. 11 startup date. which is a very aggressive schedule. But the support from the local United Way and the community support has been tremendous," said McKinney-Frantz.
"We anticipate at least 100 referral agencies will be listed for Jefferson County. Those organizations and the services they provide will be updated on a regular basis. In the event of a major disaster, or even power outages caused by a storm, we can provide the right referral service faster. At the same time, agencies which have an item or resource available for those in need can contact the 211 call center so we know what is available," said Grim.
"Our recent U.S. Census found a quarter of Steubenville's population lives in poverty. And 21 percent of the county's population is receiving medical assistance. We know the need is there," added Grim.
According to Ross Gallabrese, president of the United Way of Jefferson County board of directors, "The 211 program idea has discussed in the past. But when we listened to the presentation by the Ohio United Way we were impressed. We did the research and our board agreed unanimously to pursue the program."
"The Ohio United Way has supported the 211 program for several years. We believe it is especially important to expand the program into the Appalachian communities. Jefferson County will be an ideal partner in the program," stated Nick Roman, Ohio United Way 211 coordinator.
"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.