Information and Referral: 
The Missing Link – 2008-12-22

By: Katie Sobiech

Imagine this: you are hit with a sudden crisis, and panicking; you don’t know what to do or who to call. You pick up the phone book, flipping quickly through the pages in search of someone who might be able to help you, only to find that after calling nearly 10 different organizations – none of them offer the help you need.

What if you could have bypassed all of those phone calls by calling just one number that would direct you to exactly who you needed to talk to in order to get what you needed?

Well you can. Info Line makes that possible.

Getting Started

Beginning in 1975, this organization was originally designed by the United Way of Summit County, the Area Agency on Aging 10B Inc, and the welfare department (now known as the Department of Job and Family Services).

They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, offering free services to individuals in 88 counties in Ohio, all over the country, in Canada, and even parts of Europe.

“It’s really difficult for people to figure out who to call when they have some kind of situation going on,” Susan R. Pierson, Vice President of Services explained.

That is why this service is so important.

Its founders envisioned one agency in town that would collect all of the information about health, human, and social services, and categorize them. They are fulfilling that vision today.

Whether it’s a child that needs a winter coat; or an adult who is facing unemployment and needs health insurance – they have the resources to help.

“You name it, if it’s some kind of problem that people are facing we’re here 24 hours a day to help them find the right agency to go to,” Pierson said.

Information and Referral

Phone calls pour in daily with people asking for all sorts of help for anything from food to diapers. When someone calls in they are asked a handful of questions which are entered into the computer. Within about five minutes their system provides a complete listing of helpful resources for the individual.

“Our job is to help that person go through the steps to figure out what they need to do right now, what they need to do this week, what they need to do over the next month,” Pierson explained.

Oftentimes when people call Info Line they are upset because they are in the middle of a crisis and have called many other agencies only to hear “You live in the wrong area”, “You make too much money”, and/or “You don’t make enough money” (to be considered for benefits).

“What we do is help people get to the right place first,” Pierson said, “If you think about all of the people who are just calling agencies all over town and saying ‘Here’s what’s going on in my life can you help me?’ think of the time it takes for the people in that agency to talk to 30 people that they cannot serve. And they’re taking time from the people that they can really serve.”

By filtering out the wrong agencies and getting people to the right agencies they reduce frustration and save time for everyone.

Lifeline

Along with Info Line is Lifeline – an emergency alarm monitoring systemwhich allows the elderly to live at home safely.

For less than $500 a year they can have a monitoring device installed which provides emergency assistance at the touch of a button. If an elderly person falls down, all they have to do is press the button that they wear around their neck and that sends a signal to Lifeline. They are then able to speak to staff through a speaker phone and a Lifeline staff member determines whether or not to contact the police or one of their “responders”. Responders are people who live no further than 15 minutes from the person and have a way of getting into their house.

There is also the inactivity alarm that goes off when there hasn’t been any activity in the person’s house for 12 to 24 hours. Every morning when the individual gets up and every night when he or she goes to bed they need to reset the timer so that staff at Lifeline knows that the individual is ok.

They are currently monitoring about 7,500 people in 11 different counties.

Child Care Connection

One of the biggest divisions of the agency is Child Care Connection (CCC), which began 15 years ago. After receiving many calls from parents who needed childcare, staff realized the importance of childcare referral. Single mothers were waking up extra early, driving their kids all the way across town and then back just to get to work. They knew about the big child care centers, but weren’t aware of the family day care homes that were right down the block and could have saved them a lot of travel time and gasoline.

“So what we do is canvas all of those folks (legal family day care providers), and keep huge databases of who’s providing care for young children.”

Parents are now able to call in, state their child’s needs (ex. the child is handicapped), their location, etc., and CCC finds the best match, based on those needs.

Project Connect

Project Connect (PC) is yet another one of the many programs offered here. Because local non profits often struggle due to their lack of technology skills, PC was designed in order to help them gain valuable assets – for a fraction of the price.

“We’re helping agencies that wouldn’t have the wherewithal to have technology, use it, get it backed up and have all of the latest tools,” Pierson said, “and they only pay for the tiny piece that they use.”

PC upgrades non profits’ technology capabilities and helps them to utilize their resources more effectively. It promises to improve service delivery, business operations and mission fulfillment so that non profits can serve more clients. This includes technology management support, hands-on software training, equipment rentals and more. They also help non profits figure out what kind of technology they need to meet their mission and help them write up those plans so that they can bring it up to their boards.

Help for the Homeless

It’s hard to imagine how such a small staff can keep all of these programs running, yet they do, and they continue adding more.

Homeless Management Information System is one of their newest programs, where staff at Info Line are working with 23 agencies in town that provide services to the homeless, as well as gathering data to see how the homeless work through the system. They want to find what kind of services the homeless need in order to become stable.

Pierson realizes what a problem homelessness in Akron is, recalling that 773 people were either on the street or in shelters in Akron on January 26th of last year.

Another program in the works, Community Voicemail, will be launched by the end of the year, providing free voicemail boxes for the homeless and those in crisis situations or transition.

“Try to picture yourself homeless,” Pierson said, “for whatever reason you are out by yourself, you are trying to get your life back together again, you are going to job interviews, and then you want your employer to call you back. How are they going to get a hold of you?”

Pierson explained that most of the homeless are also out of the loop because they are not close to family and are unable to watch TV or listen to the radio. They have no clue about the latest news and weather.

“You’re not really in touch with people (when you’re homeless),” Pierson said.

With Community Voicemail the homeless will be able to listen to a recorded message every morning which will provide up-to-date, valuable information such as food giveaways, job opportunities, and where they can catch busses to get to those job interviews.

Five hundred voice mail boxes will be given away at their launch.

Other Services

As if all of these services aren’t enough, they have an emergency food line, Medassist, and Senior Info Line as well.

Emergency Food is their number one request for service, making their Emergency Food Line crucial. With this they provide referrals of those in need of a 3-day emergency supply of food, baby formula, or diapers to area food pantries (such as OPEN M).

Medassist, another major program, provides financial assistance with prescriptions and medical supplies for those without health insurance coverage and for those who do not qualify for other assistance programs.

Senior Info Line, the final program, provides information and referral for older adults in Summit County, as well as to their relatives and caregivers. Staff members have information on donations and volunteering, legal services, health care and many more things that relate to the issues and needs of older adults.

“We literally have hundreds of stories on a daily basis of people who call and say ‘I was at the end of my rope, we were ready to lose our house, we were being foreclosed, we didn’t have any groceries.’ I could just go on and on; and (they say) ‘thank you so much for being there’,” Pierson said.

Information and Referral receives about 70,000 calls a year. Their database holds information on about 1,200 agencies, programs and services available to Summit County residents, and their directory Where to Turn, has a complete listing of these agencies and services. (Directory is available online)

“It’s always exciting around here,” Pierson smiled.

For more information please visit their webpage http://www.infolineinc.org or call 2-1-1

 

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