Rob Rains

More than 15 years ago, our United Way envisioned a day when everyone would know 2-1-1, a community information, referral and crisis line, in the way that we all know 9-1-1.
donate-buttonIn 2001, as the Federal Communications Commission was changing N-1-1 numbers for specific usages, United Way of Brevard purchased the rights to 2-1-1. After the FCC ruling designated 2-1-1 as the official number for accessing information on the local level, we turned to our United Way partner agency Crisis Services of Brevard.
Since 1968, using a traditional seven-digit number, Crisis Services had demonstrated the skills and expertise in serving as “the first call for help” for those in need. Our United Way worked diligently to support the nonprofit agency’s transition to 2-1-1 Brevard.
Brevard was the first county in Florida and only the seventh area in the nation to have this valuable resource. It’s a part of our United Way’s 60-year history, and we are very proud to have helped make it happen.
This February, as we mark National 2-1-1 Month (because it includes the date 2/11), United Way is wrapping up its annual campaign that generates key funding for many local health and human service programs. Additionally, 2-1-1 Brevard is in the midst of its own month-long “Answer the Call” fundraising campaign.

As we move into 2017, 2-1-1 still isn’t at the level of awareness of 9-1-1, but we’re still working toward that. The critical step taken in 2001 laid a foundation of accessibility to information and resources for people in our community who – sometimes desperately — need our help.

Many organizations targeting specific problems recognize the power of partnering with 2-1-1 because so many people already know they can call 2-1-1 to get connected and get answers.

2-1-1 Brevard’s helpline specialists logged more than 42,000 calls in fiscal year 2015-16. Most callers requested assistance with basic needs, such as food, housing or paying utility bills.

The specialists made more than 37,000 referrals to nonprofit, government or other organizations in the course of those calls. But they also engaged in dialogue that could uncover the root cause for the shortfall that led to the call – or another issue that needs to be addressed:

  • A young mother might call 2-1-1 because she can’t pay the electric bill, but the specialist might discover through the conversation that she also is worried because her youngest child isn’t talking as soon as her older child did.

The specialist can connect her with the 2-1-1 Help Me Grow coordinator who helps families with questions, free screenings and support related to a child’s behavior or development. 2-1-1 Brevard is the local lead agency in the state-funded program.

  • A Vietnam veteran may call the helpline because he’s lost his job and is being evicted. When a helpline specialist asks a caller about military status, a “yes” may trigger a transfer to 2-1-1’s veteran specialist, a Gulf War combat veteran who is funded through the Brevard Veterans Resource Network.

2-1-1 Brevard is an active member of the coalition, which developed among nonprofits, government programs and individuals with a desire to better support our military-connected community.

  • Helpline specialists always have made referrals to agencies that help callers who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But a state grant through the Brevard Homeless Coalition established a “homeless systems specialist” at 2-1-1.

This specialist can do an initial assessment of the caller’s situation and serve as the “front door” into the network of agencies that may be able to provide housing or other assistance.

These newer programs build on the core of the 24-hour helpline.  All are accessible by dialing only three numbers.  In addition, 2-1-1 Brevard has a partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. About 1 percent of logged calls in the past fiscal year (almost 600) were classified as “suicide prevention/intervention.”

In July, 2-1-1 Brevard further expanded its potential reach on the Space Coast by launching text-based assistance. Recognizing the growing power of this platform, especially with younger residents, a “caller” can text their ZIP codes to 898211 to communicate with a helpline specialist.

During February, 2-1-1 Brevard needs our support to “Answer the Call” (or text) and – with the initiation of such diverse and impactful programs – go “Beyond the Call.”

I am proud of how this longtime, local nonprofit has grown its impact and how its leadership continues to explore additional partnerships that will lead to even more growth and impact.

Can you help the helpline? To “Answer the Call,” visit www.211brevard.org.

Rob Rains is president of United Way of Brevard.