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By Mike Koehler, Sioux City Journal Staff Writer

Sioux City, IA - Spetember 17, 2003 - The Center for Siouxland and United Way of Siouxland announced Wednesday their plans for a regional 2-1-1 call center that will offer streamlined access to community services and volunteer opportunities.

Similar to dialing 4-1-1 for phone directory information or 9-1-1 for an emergency, 2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember telephone number that connects callers with community services and volunteer opportunities. Call centers in Council Bluffs/Omaha, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Quad Cities and Des Moines have already been activated. Sioux City and Mason City call centers will be up and running by spring of 2004.

"Every day, nationwide, people search for essential services -- from finding an after-school program to securing adequate care for an aging parent," said Tim Stiles, president of United Way of Siouxland. "Thousands of others are constantly looking for emergency financial assistance, food or shelter. Looking for help means finding dozens of phone numbers and then searching through a confusing maze of agencies and services."

Stiles said people who want to give back to the community through volunteerism, donations or civic development will also have easier access through a single phone line.

2-1-1 helps vulnerable people (those who are elderly, disabled, non-English speaking, incapacitated by crisis, illiterate, new to their communities, etc.) to help themselves, thereby increasing the number of people and families who achieve self-sufficiency and reducing dependence on government service such as welfare, according to the United Way.

The idea of 2-1-1 started in 1997 in the city of Atlanta. The United Way there put together a coalition that was able to get the service started so people could make the call. Later, the United Way of Connecticut was able to establish a statewide service there by 1998.

"In those two incubator stages, 2-1-1 proved its worth in many regards through the tragedy that occurred on 9-11 (Sept. 11, 2001) through many of the data that they were able to collect and the services that were needed," Stiles said.

The United Way of America then became an advocate of 2-1-1 and worked with the Federal Communications Commission to get legislation passed in July 2000 to designate 2-1-1 as the dialing code for information and referrals. Federal legislation is in the works to make a nationwide system a reality. Stiles said local funding must be secured in order for that to happen.

The center will serve the Center for Siouxland's current service area of five counties in Northwest Iowa of Woodbury, Cherokee, Ida, Monona and Plymouth as well as the additional four counties of Lyon, Osecola, O'Brien and Sioux. The call center will also negotiate with other agencies to cover Dakota County in Nebraska and Union County in South Dakota.

David Olson, board president of the Center for Siouxland, said the Center was formed 28 years ago. The 2-1-1 center will allow it to expand its mission and become a one-stop center and become more efficient.

"Thanks to this endeavor, callers will receive immediate assistance in times of crisis as well as appropriate assessment, information and referrals to community assistance and volunteer opportunities," Olson said.

Jan Klimiades, executive director of the Center for Siouxland, said the 2-1-1 center will be an evolution for their organization. They knew 28 years ago that they needed an information referral service, she said.

Klimiades thanked the Waitt Family Foundation for a donation that is being used to purchase hardware. She also announced Michelle Urban is the new 2-1-1 project coordinator and will manage the program once certified. They will also employ certified resource specialists who will handle the database of information for all relief agencies and government entities throughout the nine-county area.

Sioux City Mayor Craig Berenstein thanked the organizations involved in working to establish the call center.

"When you analyze the impact and benefits the information from this program can have in this region and throughout the country, you realize very quickly the importance to lend any level of support necessary to make this happen," Berenstein said. "With that, I am pleased to offer any support I can provide on behalf of the city. We pledge to do what we can on a state and federal level to see that this program is not only adopted and supported in our community, but more importantly, becomes a vital component so necessary to streamline access to existing services, expand community involvement and assistance and support to homeland security efforts so critical to our livelihood."

Also on Wednesday at a national press conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., joined U.S. Reps. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Anna Eshoo, D.-Calif., United Way of America and The Alliance for Information and Referral Systems to announce bipartisan legislation seeking $200 million to expand 2-1-1 service nationwide.

Start-up funding for Siouxland's 2-1-1 Call Center includes:

-- United Way of Siouxland $24,468

-- Woodbury County $24,587

-- Community Service Program $9,000

-- Center for Siouxland $7,800

-- Waitt Family Foundation $6,000

Click here to view article reprinted from the Sioux City Journal