Grant is creating 211 non-emergency helpline in Central PA

This is part of a weekly series that highlights a grant the Foundation is involved with.

Everyone knows that when they’re faced with an emergency, like a fire, they can call 911, and help will be at their door in minutes.

But who do you call when you need help with an important problem, like getting your power turned back on?

“They’re both big deals,” said Centre County Community Foundation Executive Director Alfred Jones, Jr. “Crisis is in the eye of the beholder.”

A $225,000 grant that the Community Foundation received from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will enable residents of Centre County and 15 others counties in Central Pennsylvania to dial 211, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for important information and referrals, from educational resources for children, to help finding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the union that doesn’t have access to this service.

As a board member for the Community Help Centre, which runs a 24-hour helpline for Centre County, and is now the lead agency on the 211 project, Jones was aware of how useful it could be to have important information just a call away.

So when the Community Foundation’s Knight Foundation liaison suggested CCCF apply for the Information Challenge Grant, which funds local news and information projects in an effort to ensure that residents are informed and engaged, Jones mentioned the possibility of a 211 program, and the liaison thought it sounded like just the kind of innovative project the Knight Foundation would love to fund.

And she was right. It was.

Since receiving the grant in 2009, the Community Foundation and other organizations have been working on the project in a variety of ways, one of which is gathering comprehensive data so that a call from someone in Bedford County will result in that person getting the information they need, even if the person answering their call is located in State College.

Another important aspect of the program is operator training.

211 operators are much more than a talking phone book. They are trained to identify the specific needs of the callers, many of whom may not know exactly what they’re looking for.

“They’ll get the right resources the first time,” Jones said. “It’s better than self-diagnosing your needs and picking a number out of the phone book.”

CCCF has also been working on raising matching funds for the grant with the help of others, such as community foundations, local governments and private donors, and has raised almost $100,000.

Jones expects 211 to be up and running before the new year.

-Erin

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One Response to Grant is creating 211 non-emergency helpline in Central PA

  1. Pingback: We learned a lot at the Knight Foundation’s Media Learning Seminar! | The Centre County Community Foundation

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