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News : United Way's 2-1-1 Contact Center Up and Running
Bowling Green, KY, USA, July 19, 2016 -- United Way of Southern Kentucky opened phone lines at 8 a.m. Monday for its 2-1-1 Contact Center, which is designed to help residents in the nonprofit's 10-county service area.
The three-digit phone number, which is assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, provides information about health and human services.
"It's free and confidential for people of all ages," said United Way Chairman Brad Odil. "There will be trained, caring professionals trying to transform lives and the community as a whole."
United Way President and CEO Debbie Hills said the 2-1-1 Contact Center is "truly a milestone in the United Way's 60 years."
"We heard it through all the research we did. We will have resources," she said. "It will be a one-stop shop. We're thrilled to meet that need. 2-1-1 is a key point in that history."
The contact center is funded by the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation, the Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky, the Laura Turner Dugas Foundation, the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation and the Kenan Foundation, which put up the startup funds, Hills said. The center will cost $140,000 a year to run. Startup costs were $55,000, which included staff training, furniture, computers and more. The United Way also has requested funding from the city and county governments.
"It included all the technology we needed to work with," she said.
There are still some documents being added to the database, said Samantha Blevins, a contact specialist.
"We haven't been able to put some in yet," she said. "We're going to build up to that."
After 5 p.m., callers will get a message to call during the next business day. The center operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Our goal within the next year is to go to 24 hours," Blevins said.
By 2 p.m., Blevins had answered about 20 calls, and the total number of callers had been about 50.
"They've mostly been calling about utilities and rent assistance," she said.
While the contact center doesn't cover everything, contact center workers want to ensure that people get the help they need, Blevins said.
"We don't want to send anyone away," she said. "We want to be able to find something for them."
Terri Wiethorn, a member of the board of directors and chairwoman for the 2-1-1 Contact Center committee, said the goal is to build on the database and help as many people as possible.
"(Contact center workers) are well trained to point them to what they need," she said. "The goal is to get the word out. Not everybody's familiar with 2-1-1."
Odil said the contact center will take some of the pressure off 911.
"The role of 2-1-1 is to get calls that are non-emergencies," he said. "We're anticipating 6,000 to 7,000 calls (annually)."
Contact center director Norman Wheeler said they are working out the bugs in the system.
"That's to be expected with this, but it's coming together," he said. "We've got good support people. We know it will get better as time goes on."
Wheeler described the center in one word – hub.
"We want to be able to identify what services are available," he said. "We have 750 services. We know it will grow as we identify more sources."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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United Way is a coalition of charitable organizations.
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2016