As you may know, I have the privilege of being the executive director of a faith-based, non-profit organization. Our organization is committed to helping the least, the last and the lost among us. Through doses of care and compassion, we are able to restore hope to those that may see nothing more than the storm clouds on the horizon. It’s an amazingly rewarding profession, though at times it can wear you emotionally raw.
Our organization has a firm footing in both portions of Montgomery County and Miami County and while there are large differences between what we do in both counties, one of the more heartbreaking differences is our response to those in need that we cannot help.
In Montgomery County, if we encounter someone we cannot provide assistance, we simply guide these individuals to a lifeline of resources, which is a simple phone number – 2-1-1. In Miami County, we don’t have such a system. Our system of response is based on a either a big beige book put out by the Miami County Community Action Council or a little card provided by the Family Abuse Shelter.
And while it’s a huge community benefit that these agencies are doing this work and it is greatly appreciated, we can’t expect everyone to know all that information. What if someone you know was dealing with a drug addiction issue? Maybe a friend was struggling with a mental health issue. Would you know who they could call? With 2-1-1, it is an easy to remember phone number that anyone can give out to help someone in need. We can all help in response to some of the most difficult issues of our day through one easy to remember phone number.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with other elected officials and non-profit leaders from both near and far to talk about 2-1-1. This meeting was held at the insistence of our state senator, Bill Beagle, who deserves a lot of credit for helping lead the charge on this important initiative.
For those that are unaware, 2-1-1 is a phone number that is staffed by people trained to give a response to those in need of assistance. Not an emergency response like 9-1-1, but it is there for folks that are still going through some type of crisis and need help figuring out where to turn.
Imagine you lost your job. Do you know where the nearest food pantry is to you? Do you know when it is open? Maybe you are in a low-wage job and need help paying your utility bill. Do you know where you can turn to in the community to help pay the bill?
These and other questions are answered by 2-1-1 each and every day. And these are answers that are applicable to you. They link the help that is out there from the non-profit groups in your community and give you the information you need.
Started in Atlanta in 1997, 2-1-1 was seen for many years as an exclusive tool available only for the largest metropolitan areas in the country. But over the last 20 years, technological changes have made 2-1-1 systems more cost effective and they are reaching more people than ever before. As of 2017, 94 percent of this nation’s population has access to a local 2-1-1 call center.
Unfortunately, Miami County is part of the remaining 6 percent. In fact, of the 18 counties in the entire state without a 2-1-1 system, Miami County is the largest in terms of population.
I truly believe things are changing. The discussions that have taken place are showing that not only is a 2-1-1 system an appropriate service for Miami County, there is a strong desire to make it happen.
There is still a lot of work to be done. The level of collaboration that a project of this magnitude will need to succeed is great, but I honestly believe the spirit of cooperation between our public and non-profit sectors are greater. Through 2-1-1, there is a great opportunity to provide a new service to those that need help. We are closer than we have ever been before.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.