2-1-1 program helps needy find help

Sean C. Morgan

In addition to supporting a variety of Sweet Home programs, United Way of Linn County is helping individuals who need it through an informational telephone line at 2-1-1, connecting those who need it to every nonprofit, social service and government agency available in Oregon.

United Way of Linn County started the 2-1-1 program at the beginning of the year, initially covering Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties, said Linn County Executive Director Greg Roe. Anyone seeking help for a variety of reasons should be able to find it there.

The 2-1-1 operators can look up places for low-income renters, credit counseling, organizations providing activities for the fifth day with Sweet Home’s four-day school week and more, Roe said. The operators, who are multilingual, ask callers for their ZIP codes and income level, although the call is handled anonymously.

That helps the operator find the right organizations to help the caller, Roe said. The operators find the services needed, specifically those for which the cleints are eligible.

“The whole purpose of 2-1-1 is to cut through the clutter and get the help you need,” Roe said. “This is pretty ground-breaking.”

United Way of Linn County created the system for the initial tri-country area, including Benton, Lincoln and Linn, Roe said. Now it’s statewide.

“We’re getting actual results,” Roe said. The organization is getting plenty of useful demographics, helping it fine tune its service and helping agencies learn more about the needs they address. Through the end of June, the service had handled 1,877 callers needs.

The top category was energy assistance, with 228 calls, followed by rental assistance, with 193 calls; SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with 178 calls; and water payment assistance, with 104 calls.

Others in the top 10 included callers seeking information on shelters, food pantries, WIC, gasoline money, health clinics and dental care.

Dental care was in sixth place on the list, with 68 callers seeking help, but since “starting a low-income clinic for kids, it’s actually started going down,” Roe said.

United Way of Linn County has started a dental assistance program countywide that ensures that all students will see a dentist. So far, the clinic has seen 1,400 children in Linn County, a value of $200,000.

“There is no reason for any child to go without dental care,” Roe said, and dental pain is one of the most common reasons for missing school.

That system is specifically for children, Roe said, but United Way of Linn County is now working on a program for adults in East Linn County. Right now, it is operating a clinic in conjunction with Albany General Hospital for Albany adults.

“I think it’s going to make an even bigger impact,” Roe said. Combined, the programs will provide some $420,000 in value to children and adults.

United Way of Linn County raised some $890,000 in Linn County last year, Roe said, including an estimated $14,000 from Sweet Home. The largest contributors are employees of Cascade Timber Consulting and Weyerhaeuser.

“The return Sweet Home gets on its investment is huge,” Roe said. “We’re proud of the service we provide in Sweet Home.”

United Way’s largest recipient is the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam, which serves Lebanon and Sweet Home. The organization receives some $77,000 per year. Sweet Home Emergency Ministries receives close to $20,000.

United Way also helped fund the Girl Scout camp in Sweet Home during the summer. It funds other scouting activities and the Court-Appointed Special Advocate program, which is used by Sweet Home residents.

Dave Furtwangler, president of CTC, is the chairman of the United Way of Linn County Board of Directors.