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211 service returns to Columbus

After several years without 211 service, Chattahoochee Valley residents can now dial for help accessing social services.

On Monday, the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley launched a 211 UWCV program that provides free, 24/7 confidential service to residents of eight counties. By dialing 211 on a cell phone or land line, callers will have free access to certified specialists who can connect them to local resources for food, shelter, counseling, employment, child care and other services. The program is available in many languages. It serves Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Stewart, Talbot and Taylor counties in Georgia. Russell County, Ala., is being served by 211 UWCV and 211 Alabama. Residents can also access help via a comprehensive online database at www.211uwcv.org.

Outgoing Columbus State University President Tim Mescon chaired the United Way board when the project began 18 months ago. He said Columbus was the largest city in Georgia that didn’t have an active 211 exchange and the United Way staff worked tirelessly to make the service available. “In discussions over the past couple of years, it really dawned on us how important 211 is, both for individuals looking for guidance, looking for assistance, perhaps, with one of our incredible social service agencies in the Chattahoochee Valley,” he said, “and for individuals who want to volunteer to contribute their time, their energy, their efforts to United Way or to one of these many agencies as well.”

The program will fill a gap that has existed since Contact Chattahoochee Valley stopped providing the 211 service about six years ago. Jay O’Neal, who has since become the organization’s executive director, said Contact dropped the service when it refocused and became a one-stop-shop for people with disabilities. He said that created a void in the community, which United Way is now filling.

United Way Executive Director Scott Ferguson said it took the United Way 18 months to develop the database and technology for the service. He said Candace Poole, the organization’s new 211 UWCV manager, has spent the past six months building a database of services. As of Monday, it contained almost 1,100 local services, representing 114 different agencies. Providers include government, religious and other non-profit organizations.

Ferguson said the program will cost about $120,000 a year and is being funded by two foundations that want to remain anonymous.

The local service will operate in partnership with 211 United Way Greater Atlanta, which is considered the national founder and leader in providing 211 services, according to a United Way news release. Calls from the Chattahoochee Valley will be directed to a call center in Atlanta, which will link them to a database maintained by the local United Way. The program will make 211 services available in 74 percent of the state.

Ferguson said 211 UWCV is for anyone in need. He said a woman came to the United Way offices on Monday and needed someone to relight her pilot light in her furnace.

“It’s that kind of thing. It’s that kind of handyman service,” he said. “You could be new to the area and you just want know about activities for your children or after school programs. It’s not all about rent and utilities and those kind of things.”

Ferguson said program could also be helpful in the case of a tornado scare or nature disaster, and today information is available about emergency shelters that have opened recently because of the cold weather. He said the organization had a soft launch the past month and received 180 calls and 656 website views.People requested assistance with electric service payments, food pantries, rent payment, bereavement counseling, domestic violence, legal aid, eviction prevention and veteran burial services.

Ferguson said the United Way is working with human resource directors and service clubs to get the word out to the community and wants everyone to spread the word.

“We want to make sure people call, click and connect,” he said. “It’s that easy.”

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