KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — My United Way 2-1-1 is a free, confidential service helping people across the U.S. and, in many parts of Canada, to find the local resources they need. Kosciusko County residents can also use this free service.
“It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Darren Bickel, United Way of Kosciusko County president. “The need never stops.”
My United Way 2-1-1 connects residents in 19 northern Indiana counties. The service connects people with comprehensive, up-to-date information about social, health and government services. The public can dial 2-1-1 anytime and talk to a live phone counselor or browse an online directory to find the resources needed. The first full year of 2-1-1 service was 2004.
My United Way 2-1-1 is a national dialing code for health and human service information and referral. There are 15 service categories on the website. The website is getting a reboot in January, said Bickel.
“It will be more consumer friendly, more user-friendly,” Bickel said.
The 2-1-1 program is easy to use and helps track gaps, duplication and trends in social services. My United Way 2-1-1 is essential in disaster relief, helping reduce non-emergency calls to 911 by connecting victims, donors and volunteers with social service agencies. My United Way 2-1-1 can also be good for business because it helps employees through crises. The service also constantly updates a database of nearly 6,500 services available throughout the region.
There are no charges for calls from landline phones and calls are free from most pay phones. However, normal usage minutes and taxes apply to cellphone users.
My United Way 2-1-1 service covers: Adams, Allen, Blackford, DeKalb, Elkhart, Fulton, Grant, Huntington, Jay, Kosciusko, LaGrange, LaPorte, Marshall, Noble, Saint Joseph, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties. Hoosiers in all 92 counties can receive service by dialing 2-1-1.
“So far this year, there’s been 48,560 website hits, a 73 percent increase over last year,” said Jaimie Ferren, director of 2-1-1 Services.
A lot depends on the time of the year, too. When information becomes available, like back-to-school programs or the low-income home energy assistance program, there’s always an increase in calls.
“We are the busiest during tax season. People contact us looking for information on where they can get their taxes prepared for free with the volunteer income tax assistance program. During that busy time, our average is about 250 calls per day. Normally, we expect an average of 160 calls,” said Ferren.
For the past three years, they have experienced close to a 10 percent decrease each year in the number of people contacting them by phone. This can be contributed to several things, such as low unemployment rates in Indiana, she said.
“Our most frequent requests are related to basic needs, like food, clothing, shelter, and financial assistance for rent and utilities,” said Ferren.
All operators are trained extensively. There are eight, highly trained community navigators handling contacts at the resource center.
“Operators get 40 hours of training before they even get their first call,” said Bickel. “We want them to be prepared to help them (people).”
On average, three referrals are given to each caller.
“We want to be as efficient as possible,” he said. “However, we are not a crisis line.” In an emergency, call 911, he stressed.
The 2-1-1 service also assists with health insurance and expense assistance, such as medicine. Dial 2-1-1 to find out where to pick up a free FamilyWize Discount card to receive discounts on prescriptions. One can also print off a card at www.FamilyWize.org.
Overall, said Bickel, is by calling 2-1-1 “you will walk away with a peace of mind.”
For information or help, call 2-1-1, or visit www.myunitedway2-1-1.org or www.facebook.com/myunitedway211.