How it’s done at 2-1-1: United Way’s new community-services directory

When there's an immediate emergency, most of us are primed to call 911. When there's a looming problem with emergency potential, a growing number of WNC residents call 211, the United Way's community-services help line.

The help line: Above, Keith Young works the phones at the United Way's 211 line, which fielded almost 50,000 calls last year. The new directory offers a print reference to hundreds of local community services. Photo by Jon Elliston

They call for food assistance, home-heating help and advice on where to find cheap medicine, and sometimes for services like child and elder care or protection against domestic violence. And they're calling like never before: In 2009, 211's 10 staff members (with three usually staffing the help line at any given time) fielded more than 48,000 calls, up from about 36,000 in 2008.

When they get a call, the 211 staff consult the United Way's database of more than 1,000 local community-service programs and try to match the caller's need to the appropriate program(s). That database appears online, at www.211wnc.org, but sometimes folks prefer a good old-fashioned paper guidebook.

"For years, we were always trying to get to the concept of a paperless office," notes Rachael Nygaard, the 211 project director. "It turns out that some people really like getting their information this way," she says, patting a copy of the United Way's newly minted 500-page paperback directory of available services.

The guide is the first one the United Way has published in 10 years, and Nygaard says the rising demand for services makes it necessary. "We're seeing an increase in needs, and while some people are using the Web, it made sense to have one more way for people to access this information."

The guidebook will be useful to any person or group who is trying to share its services with those in need, Nygaard stresses. "We're targeting it toward people who are in a position to help others: social workers, cases workers, human-relations personnel, clergy members and schools," she says. Her colleague, United Way Marketing and Communications Associate Elisabeth F. Bocklet, stresses that the guide is "only as good as the people who feed into it and are included in the database," so she asks that local community-services providers make sure their information is included and up-to-date.

Copies of the guidebook are available for $30 from the United Way's offices at 50 S. French Broad Ave. in Asheville. Visit the offices from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays to purchase a copy, and call 255-0696 for more information.

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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