PA 2-1-1 Northeast / Help Line call to action

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Times Leader / Gert McGowan – Guest Columnist / August 25, 2019

Gert McGowan

Long before I joined Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania (FSA) on July 1, 2019, FSA was leading the charge in information referral in Luzerne County.

The journey began in 1972, after the Agnes flood. FSA established Help Line as a central resource for vital information for the victims of this devastating disaster. In 1975, FSA grew Help Line to provide 24-hour-a-day crisis services to a variety of local agencies.

Over the years, the agencies have grown in number and varied, but FSA continues to provide the much-needed service of after-hours crisis to about 21 local agencies and government bodies.

Help Line is a well-established and relied upon community resource and has been for more than 35 years. Who grew up on Wyoming Valley and cannot sing or at least hum the jingle?

FSA is frequently told by the recipients of these services that they could not do what they need to do for their clients without FSA. Because FSA’s employees provide crisis services, they are trained well beyond what its typical information referral training. Each holds a Bachelor’s Degree and obtains the training necessary under the Department of Public Welfare’s standards for telephone crisis.

In 2011 or so, Pa 2-1-1 became the statewide provider of information referral in Pennsylvania. FSA was very interested in continuing its very valuable role in information referral. It did so.

Today FSA serves as the 2-1-1 provider in the Northeast Region, for the following counties: Bradford, Clinton, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Pike, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, and Wyoming.

The impact of the 2-1-1 and Help Line services is great and growing. In Fiscal Year 2019, FSA handled 96,408 calls: 29,821 were information referral and 66,587 were crisis. As compared with the prior fiscal year, total calls increased by 10.7%, social media hits increased by 6.2%, local resources in the data base increased by 27%, 2-1-1 calls increased by 43% and 2-1-1 needs addressed increased by 50.8%. As to quality of the services, more than 95% of the callers found the case workers were helpful and over 96% would call again.

The 2-1-1/Help Line services remain vital simply based upon the increasing calls. While demographic data is not taken when callers reach out to 2-1-1, because the majority of calls relate to poverty services like food banks, rent assistance, utility assistance and shelters, among others, it is believed that most callers live in poverty. As to the crisis calls, individuals in need of drug or alcohol treatment get a warm hand off to the right service provider, individuals threatening suicide are cared for and any other need identified or unidentified by the callers is addressed.

As with most valuable nonprofit services, FSA finds itself in need of additional funding for the 2-1-1/Help Line services. FSA is extremely grateful for the partnering of the various United Ways that do support these service and excited to be working with United Ways in the North East Region who are committing to do so in the future.

FSA enjoys great relationships with the government entities and private agencies for whom we provide after-hour crisis services. We are working together to seek enhanced funding so that these services do not need to be cut by FSA.

Finally, FSA is working hard with community foundations to grow its support of these services. FSA is also grateful for the outpouring of support from the community for its recent Pauly Friedman Walk/Run that benefited 2-1-1/Help Line. However, a significant deficit in this service line remains.

FSA’s mission is to grow stronger individuals to develop stronger families and communities. We believe 2-1-1/Help Line are services not available anywhere else for a population that needs them to survive.

That is FSA’s mission in action and we hope that the community will help us as we continue in this worthwhile effort.

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