The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 15, 2013

Bill McKinney | For human service needs, dial 211

— Have you dialed 211 today? If not, don’t worry. It’s nice to know that you and every other resident of Cambria and Somerset counties (and now across the state) have the ability to dial 211 if the need arises.

Just as 911 connects callers with emergency services, 211 connects people to vital human services from a range of nonprofits, government and faith-based agencies. When a person calls 211, a live call specialist answers the inquiry. This easy-to-remember number saves time and frustration by eliminating the need for callers to navigate a maze of agencies and help-lines.

Please pass this important number to relatives, friends and neighbors.

The service is available every day to ensure people are connected with resources from housing and food assistance, victim crisis services, mental illness services, finding the right day care, job training and placement services, to financial literacy training.

Databases are filled with thousands of referrals and details on the best way to access them. The system also complements and supports government programs to assist military members and their families.

In February, we take time to bring additional attention to 211. Pa. 211 is a statewide, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to make available high-quality human service referrals through an integrated network of regional centers that share a common database and call-management system.

The service is funded, in part, by the United Way of Pa. and was created in collaboration with Pennsylvania Association for Information and Referral (PAIRS). Both agencies were designated by the Public Utility Commission to oversee the development of 211 in the commonwealth.

More than 25,000 agencies, programs and services are registered in the database that may be able to meet your concern.

The Pa. 211 system is built around seven interconnected regional service systems utilizing established guidelines to ensure consistent, high-quality service for everyone. The result is a service that is available by telephone and online database, 24 hours daily, every day of the year.

Locally, the system became a reality with start-up funding provided by Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Cambria County Alliance, Lee Initiatives and United Way of the Laurel Highlands.

Since its inception in this region 12 months ago, 211 has been widely used by local residents. In the last three months of 2012, 155 calls were made from Cambria and Somerset counties, the service area of the United Way of the Laurel Highlands.

Information requested by callers included heat, electric and utility assistance; emergency shelter and food; personal counseling; comprehensive information and referral; and much more. All calls are confidential.

At United Way of the Laurel Highlands, we believe the calls have been increasing because of the cooperation of local agencies that have provided information to the system, strong volunteer support and continued local media support.

If your organization is not on the database, contact United Way at or online at

Navigating the human service system can be confusing, especially when experiencing a difficult life event, illness or the loss of a job and benefits. 

Dialing 211 can help give peace of mind by allowing consumers the opportunity to ask questions and find referral agencies quickly.

Always call 911 in an emergency. Dial 211 for your human service referrals and needs. Please spread the word.

Bill McKinney is president and CEO of the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, based in Johnstown.

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