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Call center for county residents closer to reality

A hotline that will give McHenry County residents a place to call for information about a range of health and human service needs could be up and running by the end of the year.

The 2-1-1 Illinois Board approved Bloomington-based PATH Inc. as the service provider for the county’s 211 line late last month. The agency serves more than eight counties statewide and has fielded more than 90,000 calls through June.

United Way of Greater McHenry County will contribute $66,000 annually for the service, which will provide residents a 24-7 crisis, information and referral hotline.

The drive for the service countywide began in 2006 when a community needs assessment showed that residents craved a sophisticated database for human services, said Dave Barber, former local United Way executive director spearheading the effort. A separate community survey in 2010 showed similar requests.

“We’re getting closer and closer to flipping that switch on and giving residents what they asked for,” Barber said. “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get the help that they need.”

McHenry County’s United Way has reached out to more than 400 nonprofit organization in an attempt to build the database. Only about 50 have responded, Barber said.

“If these nonprofits want people directed toward them for information on programs they have available, they need to get their information into the database,” he added. “It’s easy, and it’s free.”

Examples of calls that could be made to United Way 211 include helping the recently unemployed, those with mortgage or utilities problems, or people with substance abuse problems, among others. The hotline also includes a language line for non-English-speaking callers.

A trained operator will get the information needed to make a referral to one of the county’s hundreds of providers. The call comes at no cost to the resident, and the database also will be available for free online.

Although the McHenry County Crisis Line is a separate service, the call center will direct mental health-related calls to them. Residents currently can call 800-892-8900 for mental health emergencies.

“If someone calls in a crisis situation, it will be handed directly over to the crisis center,” Barber said. “We are not trying to replace the crisis program, we just want to make it easy to get to them.”

As the database is being built, officials also are in the process of working with the telephone companies to recognize 211 as a valid number.

Nonprofit organizations can become a part of the database by visiting www.uwmchenry.org.

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