Author: Katrina Ganzler
Published June 27, 2014
Life is sometimes like a game of poker. There are winning hands, there are loosing hands, and sometimes we get cards we didn’t expect. One day you may be successful at your job providing security for your family and the next day you could be unemployed and homeless looking for the next meal. Now more than ever, people that never thought they would end up in a situation where they needed help are now finding that they do. Sometimes we get in the pattern of thinking in black and white, rich or poor. We are increasingly noticing that they grey area is getting larger, causing more people to balance on the line of poverty. So where can people start to look for resources that can help them get back on their feet? They can turn to any phone and simply dial United Way’s 2-1-1.
2-1-1 is the community’s free, confidential information and referral helpline that links people in need with assistance from more than 2,000 local health and human service programs such as rent and utility assistance, food, housing, youth and child care issues, physical and mental health services, elder support, joblessness support, disaster response, and so much more. The call center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by compassionate, highly trained, operators that connect people of all income levels and language and cultural backgrounds to resources tailored to their needs and circumstances, taking into account accessibility, eligibility requirements and other factors. There is also a translation service in the call center, making the helpline multilingual with over 200 languages.
If you aren’t the type to talk to someone when you or someone you know needs assistance, you can also access 2-1-1 in multiple other capacities. For those who know exactly what they are looking for (often advocates helping someone else to resources), there is an online database where you can simply search though resources in a search engine. In addition, 2-1-1 is available though email (firstname.lastname@example.org), chat, and for those technologically savvy- text messaging (text zip code to TXT-211). The last option is to mail your needs to United Way. Often times, people in jail or prison that are getting released soon will mail their questions to be proactive in the transition process.
Teresa Martyny, the 2-1-1 Liaison for Marion County, works hard to make 2-1-1 aware to anybody who may need assistance, while also searching for new resources that can help expand the database. She recently won a Local Imagine award from the Florida Public Relations Association for her creatively helpful 2-1-1 blog where she writes about how 2-1-1 can help you, energy saving tips, the role of 2-1-1 in a disaster, and other topics.
Beyond offering assistance, 2-1-1 also offers follow up phone calls. Every caller gets asked if they would like a specialist to follow up in a few days to check if they got the resources they were looking for. Not only does this show a sense of care to the caller, but it also helps Teresa find out new information from agencies in the database so she can make updates as needed.
In the end, it’s not about the cards we were dealt with; it’s about how we played the hand. So the next time you feel alone, overwhelmed, or lost, remember that there is a call specialist on the other end of 2-1-1 waiting with an open heart and ears to help you play your hand in the most resourceful way. After all, the whole reason United Way of Marion County is here is to offer a hand up.