NKY United Way striving to bring 211 help line to area

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ASHLAND Northeastern Kentuckians call 911 in times of emergency, but residents in financial trouble or abusive relationships don’t have a number to call to direct them toward the help they need.

The United Way of Northeastern Kentucky is trying to fill that void by establishing a 211 call center for the FIVCO region of Boyd, Carter, Greenup, Lawrence and Elliott counties.

 “When people have a health or human service type of need, who can they call? If they’re homeless, hungry, need financial assistance or they’re in an abusive situation, who do they turn to? No one organization or person can tell them where to go right now,” said Jerri Compton, executive director of the local United Way.

Compton said launching a 211 phone line for the region would create a database of services for local residents to access. “Right now, these people have to make 10 calls to 10 different organizations. They don’t know one specific place. 211 is that one place,” said Compton.

From acquiring financial assistance to pay for medicine to seeking volunteer opportunities, 211 callers can expedite the search for guidance. Calling or texting 211 also assists residents during disasters, by providing information about evacuation routes, food and shelter.

Last week, United Way and King’s Daughters Medical Center representatives, Ashland Credit Union board members, Marathon Petroleum officials and Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles were among a group who traveled to Lexington to lobby for 211 access in the region.

The group toured the 211 call center in Lexington and met with United Way of the Bluegrass and Healthy Choices, Healthy Communities leaders. Lexington has maintained a 211 phone line since 2005. The call center does not record details about the caller, but does track the type of assistance requested to better understand the needs of the community.

Compton said the group’s goal is to partner with the United Way of the Bluegrass to use its call center. The local United Way would need about $100,000 in the program’s first year, Compton said.

Funds would be used to not only establish the phone line, but educate the public on its benefit. The United way received a $150,000 grant from an anonymous donor this year, Compton said, and a portion will serve to help implement the 211 service.

“Our next step is to continue these conversations throughout our communities. It’s a matter of starting to put our money and efforts where our mouth is,” said Compton. “We’re all on board.”