The Ottumwa Courier

November 26, 2013

Need help? Dial 2-1-1

By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Community members who need the assistance of United Way services can connect to the necessary specialists by just the touch of button. Well, actually three buttons.

Thanks to 2-1-1, a free and confidential calling service, United Way is able to connect those who need a certain service to a trained professional that can help them. All you have to do is pick up the phone at any time, day or night, and dial 2-1-1 or go online to 211.org.

The service has been available statewide in Iowa since 2004. Then, on Dec. 1, 2012, the service was expanded with the creation of the 2-1-1 website. Now the service is available to more than 400,000 households around the state and in 47 states nationwide.

Using the website is quite easy if those looking for services would rather not talk on the phone. Simply put in the appropriate zip code, and then all of the services offered by that particular United Way come up as clickable icons. Users can also be forwarded to a page describing 2-1-1 and its role in the community that the user is looking for.

Those needing services can also create an online account and associate different services to the account so they are handy whenever needed. Even more, the services update automatically whenever a change is made. So, if the phone number to reach a service changes, 2-1-1 updates that information automatically for the user.

“Written catalogs get outdated quickly, but with the online service it makes it much easier to keep updated,” said Marie Zoromski, community impact associate with the United Way of Wapello County.

In order for 2-1-1 to be effective, entities that provide services, such as food sources, runaway sources or rent assistance, have to sign up and get their service put into the database. It is free to have services uploaded, so United Way is really working to get as many services uploaded as possible.

“Our goal is to get as many services to update their information on it as we can,” Zoromski said.

Once a service is uploaded to the 2-1-1 database, it is placed in a certain category based on what type of service it is. Then, when individuals needing help searching for a service online or call about a service, 2-1-1 collects that data and tells United Way officials what people in a certain area are looking for most often.

2-1-1 also helps when there is the possibility of a dangerous situation looming, such as a bad storm. The service contacts the United Way of the area that is in danger so they can get in touch with community members and make sure they are safe.

In an age that values up-to-date information and timely services, it seems as if the United Way is continuing to strive to provide services to those in need in any way they can.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh