April 2015: Nonprofits Today

North country connects with 2-1-1

Columnist Bob Gorman

Columnist Bob Gorman

Since 2000, residents of Georgia and Connecticut have been using 2-1-1, the nationally authorized phone number that connects callers to nonprofit and government services offered in their community.

Since 2007, residents of Plattsburgh and communities in all but 10 New York State counties have enjoyed the same service.

And finally in February, 2-1-1 came to Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

This has been a 15-year vision of the United Way of New York State, which has been working with state and local governments to support and finance the system. And wherever 2-1-1 exists, the local citizenry can’t imagine living without it.

Everyone is familiar with 9-1-1, the number you call in an emergency. 2-1-1 is for information and resources. Are you new in town and not sure where food pantries or youth sports are located? Wondering if there is free tax preparation service for senior citizens? Have some time on your hands and would like to be a volunteer? The answers to all those questions can be found through 2-1-1.

Right now, north country nonprofits are submitting information to the 211CNY call center in Syracuse, which handles all calls made from our three Northern New York counties and Oswego and Onondaga counties.

Some of the benefits of 2-1-1 are apparent and others will eventually be revealed.

State government leaders like 2-1-1 because it allows them to refer most “constituent services” calls to 2-1-1.

Staffers operating 9-1-1 like it because it cuts down on the number of non-emergency calls they receive for information on food pantries and other services.

Fort Drum likes 2-1-1 because there is no way the post can give soldiers and their families in Gouverneur, Lowville, Adams, etc., information about what is available in every community.

And civil defense likes it because 2-1-1 can quickly be turned into the clearing house for all information during a disaster. The service was the key conduit for information during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the massive snowstorm that hit the Buffalo area last November.

Additional funding was added to the state budget last year to bring 2-1-1 to our three counties, but continued state funding will be an annual concern for Sens. Patty Ritchie and Joe Griffo, and Assemblymembers Ken Blankenbush and Addie Russell.

Right now, our three counties do not pay anything for the system to be here, but that is understandable. Why would any county government financially support 2-1-1 when there is no call volume data to make a judgment?

But the numbers are now coming in. 211CNY averaged 20 calls a week from our three counties the first three weeks after system availability was announced Feb. 11. As those numbers continue to rise, the United Way believes state and county leaders will see the value in ensuring 2-1-1 is here to stay.

Meanwhile, we invite you to review the 2-1-1 website at 211cny.com and see for yourself what the potential is for a one-stop shop of information and referral services for the north country.

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of the United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 788-5631.