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Our View: 211 needs agency info

Any community of more than 300,000 residents will have people who need help but aren’t sure where to turn.

That’s the premise behind a 211 hotline being set up through the efforts of United Way of McHenry County and others, although the process is taking longer than expected through no fault of the organizers.

Any agency that deals with the public knows how frequently people are looking for help with a particular need that social service agencies, churches or others have the ability to address if only the person seeking the help knew about the service.

Perhaps a senior is going through foreclosure proceedings that he can’t navigate. A parent is looking for advice on dealing with a teen battling substance abuse. A new resident needs to know where she can get help raising her autistic son.

A call center manned by Bloomington-based PATH Inc. soon will be able to direct those people in need to agencies that can best help them. PATH serves more than eight counties statewide and has fielded more than 90,000 calls through June.

It’s a common-sense concept that is being funded without tax dollars. Area United Ways are paying operation costs based on population. McHenry County’s annual cost is $66,000. The McHenry County Community Foundation recently agreed to pay a one-time $7,500 connection fee to establish the 211 phone line.

Organizers hoped to have the line established by the end of 2012, but Dave Barber, former executive director of United Way who is in charge of the 211 program, said he’s surprised by the limited response from the nearly 400 agencies contacted to be part of the referral service.

Barber said that only 74 agencies have gotten back to 211 organizers to date. The service will only be as useful as the level of participation. That and details to be worked out with telephone service providers are delaying the launch of the project.

Making certain that users are connected with the proper service saves everyone time and effort, so we’d urge those agencies to respond to letters so they can get into the database. They can do so by visiting www.uwmchenry.org.

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