CNJ STAFF WRITER
From a single mother getting back on her feet to a drug addict looking to better his life, United Way of Eastern New Mexico’s 2-1-1 program has proven to be a beacon of hope for struggling area residents.
According to 2-1-1 Associate Patricia Bazar, the 2-1-1 phone number is an information referral line meant to connect callers with health and human service organizations in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
“Folks dial the number 2-1-1 and what we do is we refer them to different organizations and give them information,” she said. “The biggest reasons they call are for rent, utilities, food and transportation.”
The calls directly connect to the United Way of Eastern New Mexico. In all, the organization received 180 calls to 2-1-1 in the month of December and more than 1,600 calls for all of 2013, with a majority of callers seeking information on assistance for housing, rent and utilities.
“We try to get the big picture and direct them to services that we know are available,” Bazar said.
While a person may be calling looking for help paying a utility bill, upon further inspection, it could be that person is without a job and food, she explained.
“We listen to what it is they’re telling us because not all the time what they’re telling us is what the real need is,” Bazar said.
Not only does 2-1-1 offer direct assistance, but United Way has used the information gained from phone calls to help fill in gaps in the community where additional assistance is needed.
When associates noticed that several local residents had issues keeping their homes warm in the winter, United Way began its Winter Warmth program, which offers heaters to people on a referral basis.
In addition, United Way offers prescription assistance vouchers through its MedBank program, and in 2013 saved 10 clients more than $50,000 in prescription costs.
“Another thing that’s come out of 2-1-1 is just our collaboration with folks,” said Bazar, who frequently works with local churches and agencies such as Lighthouse Mission and Junctions to find assistance for callers.
“The work that Patricia and people at a church do when they hear story after story after story, and they have to try to assess somebody’s need and weigh it against what they have to work with,” said Executive Director Erinn Burch, “All that stuff is hard work. It’s hard on people.”
Bazar still enjoys seeing a happy ending, as she did with a single mother with four children who was able to use United Way’s services to find a job.
“I got to see her smile,” Bazar said. “I get to see her progressing.”
February is 2-1-1 Month at United Way, and associates are hoping to get the word out about what they can offer to community members. The agency is also currently seeking a volunteer to work with its MedBank program.