In a time of financial and emotional troubles, people often seek the help of local or state organizations. Many times, detailed information about these organizations is not well-known to the public, not listed in the phone book or only available online.

The Schuylkill County United Way is hoping to remedy this for all county residents by pursuing a free 2-1-1 automated information and referral service.

"By simply dialing 2-1-1, any citizen will be able to gain immediate access to trained professionals and volunteers who can connect you quickly with the health and human services agency or state agency that can address your needs," said Kelly K. Malone, executive director, Schuylkill United Way.

"Whether you need to find out where to get a flu shot or are seeking assistance to help an elderly loved one pay their utility bills, 2-1-1 can help."

Malone said the system could give information about any type of community-minded service or program, to include job training, employment, food pantries, help for an aging parent, health care, disaster services, addiction prevention programs for their teenage children, affordable housing options, support groups, ways of becoming part of their community and more.

In Pennsylvania, over 25,000 agencies, programs and services are registered in the 2-1-1 database. Visitors can also access these services by going to www.211.org [1] and searching for their local 2-1-1 website. For Pennsylvanians, www.pa211.org [2] is the best place to start.

"2-1-1 is for everyone and can be remembered by everyone," said Malone. "In addition, the service is free, bilingual, confidential and makes the entire human services sector at every level of government work more efficiently."

Currently, 90.6 percent of the country (283 million people), to include over 60 percent of Pennsylvania, has access to the United Way 2-1-1 service, with many counties, like Schuylkill, still pursuing their options. In addition, as of August 2012, more than 19 million Canadians (56 percent of the population) have access to 2-1-1 services.

In 2011, 2-1-1 services in the United States answered more than 16.6 million calls. The implementation of 2-1-1 is spearheaded by local United Ways, Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and partnerships with many referral agencies in states and local communities.

"Each local United Way funds the service for their area or county and maintains their own databases of community resources," said Malone. "There are 64 United Ways in Pennsylvania."

"For our Schuylkill United Way to incorporate this service, we'll need an additional $36,000 a year in our budget," she added. "Although we've received a number of donations, we still only have $6,800 of the $7,500 buy-in amount needed to start."

"We are one of the last few United Ways in the state to implement this," said Malone. "By waiting, we learned from everyone else's mistakes."

According to the 2-1-1 website, the 2-1-1 service is presently operating in all or parts of the following PA regions/counties: 2-1-1 South East PA Region consists of Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Delaware and can be reached externally by calling (866) 964-7922/24. PA 2-1-1 Capital Region consists Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Perry and York and can be reached externally by calling (717) 652-4401 or (855) 567-5346. PA 2-1-1 East Region consists of Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh and Northampton and can be contacted externally by calling (717) 291-5462 or (855) 501-6785. PA 2-1-1 Southwest Region consists of Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland and can be reached externally by calling (412) 255-1155 or (888) 553-5778. PA 2-1-1 Central Region consists of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Fulton, Huntington, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Somerset and Union and can only be reached internally by dialing 2-1-1.

"In addition, the 2-1-1 service can help during a disaster, by asking people to call dial 2-1-1 for these needs, instead of 9-1-1," said Malone. "This allows our first responders to focus on immediate, life threatening emergencies. 2-1-1 has proven itself time after time as an invaluable resource in the aftermath of a disaster."

"2-1-1 allows people to give help and to get help," stressed Malone, who urges everyone to support Schuylkill County United Way's effort to add the service there.

For more information about 2-1-1 in Schuylkill County or ways to help or donate, visit www.schuylkillunitedway.org [3] or call (570) 622-6421.