By Marissa Christie, President & CEO, United Way of Bucks County
Last week, I spoke to a grandmother who is the sole caregiver for three children, all under 5 years old. She is struggling. She was barely making ends meet when it was just her.
Now, she suddenly needs help with a number of things: healthy food, childcare so she can go to work, clothing for quickly growing kids, and basics like blankets and sheets.
The good news: There are phenomenal services, programs, and organizations here in Bucks County, all ready and eager to help people.
The bad news: For people with little or no experience navigating the web of health and human services available, it is hard to find the right resources and entry points.
Last summer, United Way of Bucks County began investing in a service called 2-1-1. It is a free, confidential, 24/7/365 information and referral service that anyone in Bucks County can use. People can find resources for themselves or on behalf of someone else – a friend, family member, neighbor, constituent, parishioner, or client.
It is as easy as picking up the phone and dialing 2-1-1; texting your zip code to 898-211; or going to www.uwp.org/211gethelp to chat live online or search the database.
Every call, text, or chat is answered by a highly trained Resource Navigator, nearly all of whom started their careers as caseworkers or social workers. They match each person with local resources.
But the value of 2-1-1 is even greater than the service to individuals.
Like many nonprofits, United Way of Bucks County is working to make better data-driven decisions regarding where and how best to use resources. We can use information gathered through 2-1-1 to inform decisions. Although we never see personal information, we can see what zip codes people are calling from, what kind of help they need, how that changes – and whether there are unmet needs.
We can use that information to better serve our community.
2-1-1 is also a valuable resource when there is a disaster. Counties across Pennsylvania have used 2-1-1 for non-emergency needs after natural disasters, allowing 911 to work primarily with first responders. It improves the coordination of those who want to help – and gets help to those who need it faster.
Is 2-1-1 a perfect system? Not yet. But with community support, it will get better.
At this stage, virtually all the updates to our database of local resources are handled by the UW Bucks team. If more nonprofits, government agencies, hospitals, faith-based organizations, and groups update their information regularly, adding the services they provide, 2-1-1 gets better.
If more people in our community use 2-1-1 to get connected to resources, we can continue to invest in and build this service, including more resource navigators for our region.
If you have any questions about 2-1-1, please let us know. Same goes if you have a great (or not-so-great) experience with the service. Tell us what you think so we can continue to improve service.
2-1-1 now covers 100% of Pennsylvania and 93% of the entire population of the United States and Puerto Rico. It is a national movement.
In the late 1960’s, some people were skeptical when an “emergency code” was rolled out nationwide. Now, it’s hard to imagine a world without 9-1-1.
I believe that 2-1-1 can be just as transformational. We just need to work together to nurture and grow it here in our community.
The grandmother I spoke to last week is getting the help she needs, but she regrets not finding some of the services sooner. “I didn’t even know where to start,” she told me. “I had no idea who to call first.”
2-1-1 can change that.