Superstorm Sandy recently created an amazing need for basic and essential services through the Northeast. And as a result, United Way and 2-1-1 services across the affected area have swung into full force as a clearinghouse of information for affected residents.
This easy-to-remember number connects you to a real person who can help point you in the right direction to meet your needs. During 2005's Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath, it became obvious that the gulf areas with 2-1-1 services were able to respond in an immediate and timely manner, while other areas experienced haphazard assistance.
Here in Kentucky, 2-1-1 operators have been a key part of the emergency response system. Notably, 2-1-1 assisted in the ice storm a few years ago and recently in supporting the needs of tornado victims last spring. When people are in crisis, it is nearly impossible to remember any of the numbers to seek help. Instead, simply calling 2-1-1 can get victims connected to partners who can provide help. 2-1-1 connects citizens with solutions.
United Way of the Bluegrass serves Anderson, Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Jessamine, Madison, Montgomery, Scott and Woodford counties, and on a day-to-day basis, 2-1-1 is available in those counties for all sorts of health and human service needs. Available in several languages, it is a one-stop shop to help secure things like food, housing, health care, senior services, child care, legal aid, tax preparation, volunteer resources and more. On the other end of the phone line are certified professionals trained to help walk callers through the often confusing world of social service offerings.
Since the inception of 2-1-1 in Central Kentucky in 2005, more than 125,000 calls have been taken, and call volume increases each year.
The top reasons for calls in 2011 were: housing and utilities (20.91 percent), food and meals (17.06 percent), tax preparation and professional support (12.51 percent) and individual and family support (7.22 support).
One of the top referral services is to the Central Kentucky Economic Empowerment Project, which offers free tax preparation. CKEEP, a coalition led by the United Way, works with low-income families to provide free tax preparation. It builds awareness about the earned income tax credit and helps families build assets.
In 2012, 3,875 families filed tax returns that resulted in $5.7 million in tax refunds that rolled into our local communities.
A new initiative for the Bluegrass Region 2-1-1 is an expansion of the database to include after-school services. United Way is seeking input to develop this database and to look for ways that existing programs can collaborate to offer services for all children.
The 2-1-1 system offers major benefits to society. The Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources at the University of Texas recently conducted a study on the viability of a national 2-1-1 system. The report indicated that the system would ultimately save Americans millions of dollars in taxpayer money and provide $1.1 billion in net value to society over the next 10 years.
United Way is continually advocating for the expansion of 2-1-1 services in the state and across the nation. Currently, 2-1-1 in Central Kentucky is funded by United Way alone. In other parts of the United States, it is a public/private partnership.
Long-term sustainability of the services is dependent on private investors such as you. The irony is, you never know when you may be in need of services or know someone who might.
In this season of giving, perhaps you can choose United Way of the Bluegrass for a year-end investment in your community. Go toUwbg.org or call 2-1-1 to make a financial contribution to ensure this service continues. Together, we can improve the lives of all Central Kentuckians in need.
Cliff Feltham, a spokesman for Kentucky Utilities, is the volunteer chair of the United Way of the Bluegrass 2-1-1 Committee.