(Rockford, Ill. - 02/11/2014) – February 11 is 2-1-1 Day, in recognition of the free, user-friendly phone number that serves 90 percent of America's population, and connects some 16 million people a year to critical resources, information and services. Locally, United Way of Rock River Valley introduced 2-1-1 services to Winnebago and Ogle county residents in August 2012 and was the first Illinois site after pilot sites in McLean County and Greater St. Louis launched 2-1-1 services in 2009.

In Winnebago and Ogle counties, over 4,000 people turned to 2-1-1 for help last year. People called to find referrals for meeting basic needs, such as rent and utility assistance, emergency help, or to find the closest food bank. But they also called for everyday information, to find out where to take their child for developmental screening, or how to locate job training or to find free tax filing support.

Last year, United Way 2-1-1 provided about 4,200 referrals to human services in Winnebago and Ogle counties. The majority of callers requested help with rent and utility assistance. United Way 2-1-1 was also used as a resource for relief efforts and emergency information during April's severe flooding, and weather advisory's during summer and winter. Recently, United Way partnered with Winnebago County to help residents connect to county government services using the free information and referral line.

Without 2-1-1, callers can make an average of eight phone calls to different numbers before finding the services they need. United Way 2-1-1 cuts through the red tape to save providers time and money, while helping Winnebago and Ogle county residents connect with the resources they're looking for.

But 2-1-1 does more than connect people with help. It also takes the "pulse" of American communities. Calls to 2-1-1 Centers in many communities spiked before the recession was declared in 2009, for example. And in 2010 a national survey found 90% of 2-1-1 Centers were getting pleas for help from people who'd never sought any help from food pantries, public assistance or rent and utility help before. Many communities analyze 2-1-1 data as one social indicator of local needs and economic stability. For instance, United Way of Rock River Valley can identify service request trends during specific times of the year and ensure the 2-1-1 database can support those needs.

So what happens with a 2-1-1 call? When you dial 2-1-1 (for free), the call is routed to a call center operated by PATH, Inc. in Bloomington, Ill. Calls are answered by trained information and referral specialists, who discern your need, then search a comprehensive database of local relevant human service referrals. The 2-1-1 specialist explains how to access those services. In the case of a worker who has recently been laid off or whose hours have been reduced, the 2-1-1 specialist may share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, food stamps, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling and other available resources.

The system's database continues to grow and is updated frequently to deliver the most reliable and up-to-date local information. All calls are free and confidential and the 2-1-1 network supports multiple languages including Spanish and Manadarin Chinese. For emergency services, callers should call 911.

United Ways have been long-standing supporters and the national leader of the 2-1-1 movement in Partnership with AIRS (Alliance of Information and Referral Services). As the largest private funder of the 2-1-1 network, United Ways continue to strengthen and support 2-1-1 as another way to build stronger communities and create opportunities for all.

Please visit United Way 2-1-1 for more information


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