211 help line goes cellular

The Asheville-based regional helpline 2-1-1 of WNC can now be dialed by cell phone. The service of the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County has always been available by calling 252-4357 by landline or cell phone, or 211 by landline, but now callers with mobile phones only need to dial 211 to connect.

Give a call: The United Way’s helpline, 211, can now be dialed directly by cell-phone users. Photo by Jason Sandford

David Bailey, the local United Way’s president and CEO, says he expects the service’s call volume to go up, noting that more and more people use only cell phones to make calls. He also noted that 60 percent of emergency calls to 911 in Buncombe County now come by cell phone.

Bailey credits state Rep. Charles Thomas of Buncombe County with providing the political leadership to get the cell-phone carriers to enable the calling. Alltel, AT&T, Nextel/Sprint, TMobile/SunCom, US Cellular and Verizon all signed on, Bailey notes. And the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation coordinated the process of getting the calls routed to the correct call centers across the state.

Nathan Ramsey, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, made the ceremonial first cell-phone call at an event last Thursday.

“In these tough economic times, we realize many of our residents are struggling,” he said. Making the 211 service available by cell phone should help those people under stress, who often only have a cell phone, he added.

On a tour of the call center in the United Way’s newly renovated offices on South French Broad Avenue, 2-1-1 of WNC Director Rachel Nygaard said she’s predicting a 20 percent increase in call volume now that the service is just three digits away by mobile phone. The center received 40,000 calls last year, she said.

The community help line serves Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania and Madison counties. It was established in 2001 and provides trained referral specialists who can help callers seeking all kinds of health and human-services aid, from food and medicine to housing and legal assistance. The service can also connect potential volunteers with agencies. The referral specialists have access to a database loaded with some 2,000 listings, which can also be found on the Web at www.211wnc.org.



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