When there’s an emergency, people know where to call. When they need some location information, they know where to call for that.
If they need information to help them out of a temporary financial jam, find child care or to learn about health care, they also know where to call: they dial 211.
“Everybody knows what 911 is and everyone knows what 411 is. You don’t forget them,” said Deborah Armstrong, assistant director for community relations for United Way Delaware. “A few years ago, when the United Way wanted to have an easy, recognizable phone number for people to be connected to the resources they need, we started 211.
“It’s a lot easier to have people call 211 instead of rattling off a long phone number and area code.”
Tuesday, Feb. 11 – 211 – is National 211 Day, celebrating the service’s debut almost 20 years ago, said Michelle A. Taylor, president and chief executive officer of United Way Delaware.
From that beginning, the program now serves 90 percent of the population of the United States. It provides 100 percent coverage in 39 of the 50 states, including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, Taylor said.
Approximately 115,000 Delawareans used the 211 service in 2013.
“Without Delaware 211, callers can make an average of eight phone calls to different numbers before finding the services they need,” Taylor said. The service helps eliminate that need, cutting through red tape, and saving people time and money in getting the help or information they need, she said.
The First State’s 211 service evolved into its present form when it merged with the former Delaware HelpLine program about six years ago, Armstrong said.
When callers make the toll-free 211 call, they are put in touch with one of eight referral specialists in a Wilmington call center. These staff members have extensive training on helping people in need and finding the right resources.
Once they learn the caller’s needs, the staff members search a comprehensive database of human services referrals and then explain how to take advantage of those services.
“Our staffers have very strong listening skills because they need to be able to find out from an individual what their needs are and then provide them the best options for assistance,” Armstrong said.
To learn more about what Delaware’s 211 services can offer, visit www.delaware211.org.