COMMUNITY SERVICES County's 211 phone system rings along in first year

United Way and Help Hotline celebrated the success of the new number.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way and Help Hotline announced that 8,000 calls have been made using the new 211 phone system since its inception in Mahoning County last year.
Friday was declared 211 Day in Mahoning County at a press conference in the commissioners' meeting room in the county courthouse. The 211 phone system went into effect June 28.
"The majority of the calls have been from people looking for help with basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter and utility assistance," said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of Help Hotline.
"The partnership between the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way and Help Hotline, and other community and government organizations focuses on the need to make community services more accessible to those in need," said Don Cagigas, United Way president.
Purpose of 211
The 211 phone system is available to county residents for nonemergency information and referral. The number connects people with community services and volunteer opportunities.
A free service provided by Help Hotline, 211 is available 24 hours/seven days a week, and provides callers with information about and referrals to human services for daily needs and in times of crisis.
Emergency calls should still be made to 911.
Help Hotline, which has been providing information and referral services to the residents of Mahoning County for 28 years, now provides these services through the new 211 phone system.
"As always, all calls are confidential and callers receive help and answers to their questions from our qualified staff and volunteers," Piccirilli added.
Help Hotline is funded in part by the Mahoning County Mental Health Board, Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way and county commissioners. Additional funding for the implementation of 211 was provided by SBC Ameritech, the Mahoning County Mental Health Board, and the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way.
Walter M. Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management and Communications, said, "In addition to day-to-day information and referral, 211 can be a critical information system prior to, during and after a community crisis such as a flood, fire, or other local or national tragedy" and direct callers to services most appropriate for their needs.
Joseph Hill, state risk and disaster services administrator for the Ohio Department of Mental Health, applauded the county's 211 system, saying it was used extensively during the last summer's flooding. The service also can prove useful to veterans returning from Iraq, who may need the help readjusting to civilian life, and could be used as part of Ohio's homeland security efforts.
United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta launched the first 211 service in 1997.
United Way of America is working in partnership with the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems to promote nationwide access of 211 through Congress.
Cagigas encouraged those at the press conference to call the toll-free number (888) PASS-211 the rest of this month to generate grass-roots support for the Calling for 211 Act.
The commissioners presented board proclamations to Cagigas and Piccirilli for the success of the county's 211 system.

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