When people are facing a challenge, they often don’t know where to find the help they need.
Enter 2-1-1, a live telephone service that directs callers to the right place, whether the need it for counseling, food, clothing, shelter, medical help, utility assistance or any number of other social services.
“It’s the number to call when you don’t know who to call,” said Batavia United Way Director Melinda Kintz, who spearheaded the effort to bring 2-1-1 service to Kane County.
With 2-1-1 making its debut in Kane County late last year, the service now covers 40 Illinois counties, with Kane being the largest.
Live specialists are on duty 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, at the Illinois 2-1-1 call center in Bloomington.
After an initial recording asking for a zip code, the caller is greeted by a trained volunteer who will provide information and if needed a direct transfer to the appropriate local agency.
The volunteers are trained to listen and to ask questions.
“We want to get the right referrals the first time,” said Karen Zangerle, Director of Providing Access to Health (PATH) which operates the call center. “It can be so frustrating to navigate the social service network."
Whether the caller is facing a crisis or simply needs some information, the volunteers are trained to help, she said.
“Sometimes they may just need to talk,” Zangerle said.
Callers can get contacts to obtain basic human needs, including food, shelter, rent and utility assistance.
Inquiries for physical and mental health resources comprise a large proportion of the calls, including information and contacts for health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, along with crisis intervention services, including suicide hotlines.
Other callers are seeking employment, and the service connects them with job training, education programs and transportation assistance.
For seniors and persons with disabilities, the volunteers help callers identify local adult day care centers, home health care and independent living programs.
The service also connects people with support for children and families, including afterschool programs, tutoring and other resources.
Calls for help for someone dealing with a drug or alcohol problem are common, Zangerle said.
“It’s often a family member or friend trying to figure out what to do,” Zangerle said.
A key component of the service is a follow-up call a day or two later, to ensure that the person in need was able to get the necessary assistance, Zangerle said.
Last year, Illinois 2-1-1 handled 60,000 calls, Zangerle said. Calls from Kane County are gradually increasing.
“It takes a while for a community to absorb a new service," Zangerle said.
The service was made possible in Kane County with funding from United Way and local school districts.
A major hurdle was arranging for all telephone service providers to gear their systems to handle 2-1-1 calls, said Kintz of the Batavia United Way.
The 2-1-1 service should be available for every landline and cell phone user in Kane County. However, if the 2-1-1 call does not go through, people may call toll-free at 1-888-865-9903 to reach the service.