Resource help line available for cell users

Meghan Gauriloff

United Way 211 Portage is extending its services to wireless customers in Portage County because cell phones are replacing land lines as many people’s primary telephones.

The resource directory, which contains information on more than 1,750 community services in the Portage County area, was previously accessible only to people with land-line telephones.

The 24-hour service currently is available to wireless phone carriers who belong to Alltel, Cellular One, Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, said Erin Dunbar, vice president of community services for United Way of Portage County and director of 211 Portage.

“We are seeing a tremendous amount of people who don’t have land lines, especially older adults and college students,” she said. “Because of higher utility costs, it’s getting harder and harder to afford them, and it’s more cost effective for people to have only a cell phone.”

United Way 211 Portage maintains a complete and current database of resources, including federal, state and local government agencies and community-based and private nonprofit organizations, according to a 211 Public Education Campaign Fact Sheet.

“The basic goal of the service is to link individuals to services in the community when they need help or want to help,” she said. “The 211 service on cell phones makes it easier for people to find us.”

By implementing this service, people can get help in many different ways by calling only one number on their cell phone, said Kathy Baker, director of marketing and communications for United Way of Portage County.

“The greatest advantage of the 211 service itself is that one phone call can connect people to literally dozens of needed forms of assistance,” Baker said. “They don’t have to figure it all out for themselves because we do the homework for them. It makes it easier, especially when people are in a crisis, to just dial one number.”

By calling from cell phones, people can save time, especially if it’s critical to the situation, such as in an emergency, Baker said. The extension of the service is an advantage because so many people only have cell phones now, she added.

According to the United Way 211 Portage Year in Review 2005, the resource center helped more than 13,500 individuals and families in locating more than 17,000 services to meet their health and human service needs.

Of the services requested, most of the calls were for assistance with basic needs: food, shelter, clothing and household goods, utilities and transportation.

This service is not only beneficial to families, but it also can also be beneficial to college students who are on their own and have to get help and resources by themselves, Baker said.

“Most students are away from home for the first time; they would have no way of knowing what’s available in Kent since it’s not their hometown,” she said. “They previously had to rely on their parents as a support system, which isn’t available so quickly as it was at home.”

United Way 211 Portage can provide information to college students about mental and physical health services, volunteer opportunities and food pantries if students are running low on money.

For more information about United Way 211 Portage visit

Contact social services reporter Meghan Gauriloff at [email protected].