It's 3 pm in 1976 and a 15-year-old girl is thinking about running away from home. It's midnight in 2015 and a depressed older man is contemplating suicide. Who did they both call? 2-1-1.
2-1-1 is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It is the celebration of a great concept - a unique help-by-telephone service made available for free to Connecticut residents, year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The service began operation in 1976 when the State of Connecticut and United Way leaders recognized that although there were thousands of agencies, programs, and services helping people, it was a challenge for Connecticut residents to find and access the services that best met their needs. Infoline was created to provide a single, central source of information about human services in Connecticut. It was the first statewide system of its type, supported by a partnership of United Ways and the State of Connecticut. In 1999, Infoline became 2-1-1 making Connecticut the first state to use the three digit 2-1-1 number on a statewide basis.
Some things have changed since that first call was taken in 1976. Instead of sorting through rolodex records for information, staff today uses computer technology to access the resources of more than 4,100 agencies.
Some things remain the same. Contact specialists, now and then, solve a myriad of problems with the help of specialized training, teamwork, and resources. When a Contact Specialist answers the phone they never know what kind of problem they will be asked to help with. The question may be straightforward...the address of an agency, the name of a program, or it may involve issues that require multiple services and multiple government and nonprofit providers. In the case of a worker who has recently been laid off or whose hours have been reduced, the 2-1-1 specialist may share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, food stamps, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling, and other available resources.
"Through our forty year history, people have called to find information for meeting basic needs, like rent or utility assistance, emergency help, or to find the closest food bank. Today, they also call for everyday information, to find out where to take their child for a development screening, how to locate job training or for information on caring for an elderly parent," says Senior Vice President Tanya Barrett.
The launch of its new website at www.211ct.org makes it easier than ever for users to find what they need. It is designed to work on any device, and is built around a powerful new search engine that works with common language search terms, makes proactive search suggestions, and includes links to related topics and relevant 2-1-1 eLibrary articles on the results page.
2-1-1 is managed by United Way of Connecticut and Connecticut United Ways to serve child care, child development, disaster response, and crisis intervention.