COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— In the year 2000, the Federal Communications Commission designated 211 as the number people call for information and referrals to social services. Monday, United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley brought that call center home.
Previously in the peach state, all 211 calls were directly routed to Atlanta. Now, calls from across the Chattahoochee Valley will be routed right here in Columbus.
“What 211 does is get people when they’re experiencing often one of the biggest crises of their lives. Usually when people call, it’s because something is not quite going right for them and we’re able to help guide them through that,” Director of the 211 Community Resource Center Melinda Klamer said. “If you’ve ever had to search up your own resources, you’ll know it’s an arduous process. And so, we’re seeking to eliminate that and make an already stressful time less stressful by helping you easily find what you need to get assistance.”
211 is an information referral service that points people in the direction on where to get their needs met in the community. On their first day, more than 70 calls were routed to Columbus for the first time. A switch that United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley says is long overdue.
“We were realizing because Atlanta does take statewide calls and so they take quite a number. Sometimes there’d be wait times and people weren’t able to direct them as effectively. So, we just started to realize that if we really wanted to give people the best options and the best guidance in the manner we wanted, we needed to bring it home and get our local people involved,” Klamer said.
Many callers are seeking assistance with housing, utilities, or fighting food scarcity.
“For example, if they’re seeking homelessness help, we do have homeless shelters such as SafeHouse [Ministries] or St. Ann Outreach [Outreach] that can help them with those kinds of things,” Klamer said. “There’s various food pantries we can direct them to when they’re asking for food help. Just whatever they’re needing. We have so many different resources, over 300 in the database right now for various different things within the Columbus area.”
Manned with four resource specialists answering calls, people can now be put in contact with local resources by local experts.
“We need to be better connected to our clients in the Chattahoochee Valley, and this is a great way to do that, to have folks inside our organization taking these calls on a daily basis,” CEO and President of United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley Ben Moser told WRBL. “We’re going to be more in tune to the needs of our clients here inside our organization than we would be outsourcing the calls or having someone else answer them.”
Monday, the 211-line received 50% more calls than anticipated.
“We did get a little bit more than we expected. But what that means is there’s a need in the community. So, we are more than happy to serve that need and we’re just thankful that we’re able to help them,” Klamer said.
“It was surprising… I’m still trying to figure out what that means for us, whether it’s an anomaly, because we’re at kind of an interesting time in the month and it’s a Monday. So, the call volume tends to be a little bit higher,” Moser said. “We’ll be assessing once we have more data. We’re going to take a look at two weeks’ worth of data and adjust as needed.”
211 Community Resource Manager Cristina Ortiz Guzman knows what it is like to acclimate to a new city.
“As a military spouse, it can be difficult to know exactly where resources are located, especially when you’re new,” Guzman said. “If there’s a spouse that comes to me and is asking for assistance, I know exactly where to direct them to because it could be a little scary not knowing what is available for your family, especially when you’re in a crisis. You’re just desperately looking for something. I’m very happy to be a part of the team, to be able to guide all sorts of families, not just military.”
People seeking assistance can call 211 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., go online to their website ‘211uwcv.org,’ to view all of their resources and community partners, or text ‘898-211,’ to text a live agent or do an on-demand resource lookup.
The 211-call center is funded by United Way campaign dollars.