BY KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH
LEE COUNTY —
National 2-1-1 Day was recognized Saturday, Feb. 11, but the service remains in full swing the other 364 days of the year.
“2-1-1 is a great program for our community because it is available 24/7, and it’s a one-stop shop with all resources in one place,” explained Courtney Dobbs, 2-1-1 impact community support coordinator.
United Way of Lee County partners with the local 2-1-1 agency, which serves Lee, Russell and Chambers counties. It is affiliated with 2-1-1 Connects Alabama. According to 211connectsalabama.org, the purpose of 2-1-1 is to connect those in need with resources in their communities that can help meet those needs.
“We work in tandem with 2-1-1 to meet the most pressing needs of our community,” said Kerissa Justice, marketing specialist for the United Way of Lee County. “2-1-1 is the most comprehensive source of information about local resources and services in the country. Each local 2-1-1 database is full of resources that cater to specific community needs.”
Anyone in need of assistance can dial 211 on the phone to speak with a 2-1-1 call specialist. They can also text their ZIP code to 898211 to message a live 2-1-1 specialist. Calling the toll-free number 888-421-1266 will also connect callers with a 2-1-1 representative for help. Those who are hearing-impaired can call 711 and ask to be connected to 2-1-1 Connects Alabama.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has designated 2-1-1 for community information and referral services in the same way 911 is designated for emergency services, according to the state agency’s website.
Those in need may also look through an online database of resources by going to www.211connectsalabama.org and clicking on “Guided Search.” From there, search the database by keyword or browse resources by category.
According to Justice, local call specialists update the database a couple times a year by contacting the service providers already listed to confirm or update their information. The call specialists also research additional local service providers that may wish to be added.
“We attend community events, network with other local organization leaders and build mutually beneficial relationships to recruit new organizations and resources for the database,” Justice added. “There are so many local organizations that desire to better our community.”
But providers don’t have to wait to be contacted. They can go to www.211.org and click on “Partner with Us” to find out how they can join their local 2-1-1 database.
The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the rising cost of living, have caused 2-1-1 agencies to see an increase in requests for help.
In Lee County, the most common needs change with the seasons, but Justice said assistance with rent and utility bills is one of the most prominent needs overall. Homelessness is also at the forefront, but there are limited local resources available to address that need. Together with several other local organizations, Justice said 2-1-1 meets monthly with the One Voice Homeless Coalition to come up with ways to help.
“Also, as prices continue to rise on everything, people are now having to make more and more difficult decisions on the most important financial needs of their families,” Justice added. “After bills are paid, they may realize money is scarce for groceries, so the need for grocery assistance and local food pantries is rising every day.”
Each 2-1-1 call specialist is trained to quickly and effectively connect callers with local resources.
“Even if the resource you are looking for isn’t available through the 2-1-1 database, they will do their best to connect you with someone who might be able to help or try and assist with any other needs you have,” Justice said. “There is no shame in asking for help when you need it, and 2-1-1 wants to be the resource you turn to in your time of need.”
Dobbs said she finds it rewarding to help local people in need.
“I enjoy working for 2-1-1 because I know at the end of the day, I was a friendly voice to them in a time of need and that at least one person was able to get the help they needed,” she said.
Justice added that working together with several local individuals and organizations enhances the help and resources United Way is able to provide.
“Here, at the United Way of Lee County, we believe there is power in the collective,” she said. “Individually we can do little, but together we can do a lot.”