211: A Vital Community Resource

by Kellie Cochrane

211

A crisis can happen at any moment.  An eviction notice, a prescription that’s out of your price range, or an empty refrigerator with 1 more week until pay day.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure where to turn.  In our community, the answer is 211, the easy to remember phone number that connects people to the resources they need in times like this.

In Kalamazoo, 211 is housed at Gryphon Place, and in Battle Creek it is located in the HandsOn office.  Both places have call specialists waiting, these specialists are trained to help people get in touch with the best resource for their particular need.  This involves a community wide sharing process: in order to provide the best information, 211 has to regularly communicate with local agencies to stay up to date on programs they offer.  Call specialists also have to know the process and requirements for all programs, to make sure they’re referring people who qualify for the help.

211 has also been an effective tool for natural disasters.  When Battle Creek was hit with severe storms 2 years ago, 211 was responsible for reporting damage and helping people find assistance near them.  Both the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek 211 Centers are AIRS accredited: Alliance of Information and Referral Systems.  It is much more than just answering the phone, it’s a constant training process to stay up to date with all the services in our community and to be able to do the best job possible when assisting those in crisis.

Jamie Rugg, 211 Program Director, in Battle Creek says the impact of the program is twofold: “Residents are empowered to find the resources they need and also are advocated for by staff members when needed.  We’re also able to provide data about need gaps and trends.”

211 allows our community to see what needs aren’t being met, and work toward creating programs for those, while also tracking the most common needs in our community.  Most importantly, 211 helps people in times of need and provides easy access to all the wonderful programs we have in our region.