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My view: 211 is a vital state resource

By Craig Wagstaff

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

The number 211 is easy to remember and saves time and frustration by eliminating the need for callers to navigate a maze of health and human service agencies and help-lines.

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The number 211 is easy to remember and saves time and frustration by eliminating the need for callers to navigate a maze of health and human service agencies and help-lines.

More than 283 million Americans can seek help by dialing 211, with coverage in all 50 states. In 2013, nearly 100,000 Utahns called United Way 211, seeking assistance. In Utah, 211 is operated by United Way of Salt Lake and United Way of Utah County.

This three-digit phone number directs people looking for resources to help them face difficult issues in their lives, often seeking help for the first time, to the appropriate service providers. Information specialists answer calls from people who have lost their jobs, who are underinsured or who face foreclosure on their homes — among others. The number 211 is a resource for everyday questions like, "Where can I go to get help filing my taxes?" or "Are there resources that can help my elderly parents stay in their home?" The 211 database is filled with thousands of referrals and details on the best way to access services.

Recently, a young woman from Salt Lake County called United Way 211 saying she was calling on behalf of her neighbor. She began the call by asking for utilities assistance and then also requested food assistance information. When the question came up about applying for food stamps, she became very quiet. She then tearfully admitted that she was going through a divorce and didn’t know where to turn for help.

The 211 operator was able to explain how various resources could help her get back on her feet. She seemed comforted by that information and accepted referrals for utility payment assistance, food stamps and also some affordable counseling options. She ended the call by saying, “It is so wonderful that there are places like 211 where people care. Please tell everyone that helps make it happen, thank you from me.”

Not only is the 211 program vital for the residents of Utah for everyday issues, it also plays a critical role in the event of a disaster. People need a simple solution to answer serious questions such as: "Where do I find water, shelter or food assistance?" Dial 211. "Where can I volunteer?" Dial 211. It's easy, fast and effective.

Knowing where to go to volunteer in the event of a disaster is important, but what about volunteering on a day to day basis? Individuals, families, corporate and religious groups throughout Utah can simply dial 211 to get connected to local volunteer opportunities.

Feb. 11 marks the 16th anniversary of National 211 Day. The day is recognized every year and was designated by United Way Worldwide to draw attention to services available through 211 information and referral centers throughout the country.

United Way is committed to ensuring that people get connected and get answers. With the services provided by 211, there is never a wrong number when seeking to find or give help. The number 211 is a single, simple starting point to connect people to the right information the first time.

Craig Wagstaff is executive vice president of Questar Gas Co., a member of the United Way of Salt Lake's Board of Directors and chairman of the United Way 211 Steering Council.

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