Get the 2-1-1

Local human-service agencies are being swamped by requests for assistance from people affected by the ongoing economic downturn, and many are people who have not had to navigate their way through the system before. This is the finding of a working group assembled by the United Way of Greater Augusta that has been tasked with the assignment of identifying how the local human-service sector can adapt itself to the changing life climate.

The working group, of which I am a member, surveyed a number of what we consider entry-point service agencies – including the Salvation Army units in Staunton and Waynesboro, the local Department of Social Services, the Valley Program for Aging Services, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Blue Ridge Legal Services, the Augusta Regional Free Clinic and the Staunton Augusta Church Relief Association. Our aim was to learn about what they were seeing on the front lines, with the supposition that local layoffs might very well be flooding the local agencies with people who have never had to seek short-term public assistance in the past and thus might have difficulty finding help when they need it.

Every single agency contacted answered “yes” to that question on our survey – and further identified as the focus groups from which those first-timers were finding their way to them were from among the working poor and the senior population.

To that end, our working group is working on strategies for raising awareness of the statewide 2-1-1 public-information system. Dialing 2-1-1 on your phone connects you with free information on community services in the Greater Augusta area.

I’ll be working with local 2-1-1 director Alan Fairfield at the Family Resource and Referral Center in Staunton on a public campaign to help people get more knowledgeable about 2-1-1 and what it does in the coming weeks.

Our working group, meanwhile, will be continuing our survey work to try to learn more about how the community can coordinate its response to the economic downturn.

If you want to help us in this process, e-mail me at freepress2@ntelos.net. We can use as much insight and perspective on this as we can get.

 

– Story by Chris Graham


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