Monday, February 17, 2003

211: The Care Connection

Greater Cincinnati is a gold mine of health and social services for those needing all kinds of help. There are literally thousands of telephone numbers for human service and non-profit agencies and government offices. Whatever the need - family counseling, help for a child, for aging parents or friends, health or employment issues - there is a connection somewhere.

That's great, but unless you know how to find what you need and connect, it doesn't do much good.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati, with help from Cinergy and other sponsors, is about to solve this. Welcome to 211 - The Care Connection. The new 211 phone number debuted last week to link people to hundreds of community services in one, easy, quick phone call.

When a caller dials 211, they are connected with a specialist who can connect them to programs and local agencies offering help of all kinds. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to residents in Hamilton, Clermont and Brown counties in Ohio and Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant counties in Kentucky. It's free and confidential.

"This system is unlike any other in our area and we're proud to be a part of this effort," said James E. Rogers, chairman and CEO of Cinergy. The company is providing $600,000 in funding over the next three years. Other funders include United Way, $272,000 (the budget formerly supported the organization's Helpline); The Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, $22,250, and $5,000 from Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta developed the first 211 in 1997. In 1998, the National 211 Collaborative filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting national assignment of 211 dialing codes for social service information and referral. In July 2000, the FCC ruled that 211 would strictly be used for these purposes. Since this ruling, 211 services have increased nationwide.

Service is not yet available on cellular phones. Some business and pay phones also may not work. So, United Way's Helpline numbers - 513-721-7900 and 513-762-7250 TDD for hearing impaired people - still will be in operation to allow callers to access a 211 call center. More information is available online at www.uwgc.org.

William J. Evans, chairman of the United Way 211 advisory board, is looking ahead. "We expect that more people, with increased awareness of where to call, will hopefully resolve problems and crises before they become emergencies."

The number also quickly connects volunteers to hundreds of opportunities. "It's truly a one-stop number for getting and giving help in this community," said Rob Reifsynder, United Way president.

This region is blessed with a gold mine of community helping resources. This 211 phone line will make it easier to spread this wealth of services among even more people.

211: The Care Connection
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