At the core of every United Way is an information and referral system providing answers and resources to any questions or type of problems an individual may have and is available to all county residents. While many United Way organizations choose to run an information service called 2-1-1, United Way of Santa Rosa County created its own information and referral service called First Call for Help.
The Santa Rosa County First Call for Help line’s day to day operations is operated right out of the United Way of Santa Rosa County’s office. Trained individuals, called First Call for Help specialists, are able to refer clients effectively and efficiently to the most appropriate resources while maintaining proper tracking for a community needs assessment United Way provides free of charge to the community.
Some argue the 2-1-1 referral service is a better option due to the fact its information line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, whereas the First Call for Help line only operates during normal business hours Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, an important factor overlooked is the agencies the caller is being referred to at 2 a.m. on a Saturday also operate on standard business hours so in order to receive any help, the caller must then wait until regular business hours to call the place he or she was referred to.
But unarguably the most significant reason why the United Way of Santa Rosa County chose to create its own information system as Executive Director Guy Thompson explains, “After carefully reviewing a cost/benefit analysis, the most cost effective option to our local United Way was not to choose 2-1-1. On average, a phone call to the 2-1-1 system costs the incubating United Way a total of approximately $16 per call, whereas the First Call for Help line only costs your local United Way pennies on the dollar.” Not operating ineffective hours and absorbing staff and phone costs within the United Way office instead of outsourcing allows the United Way of Santa Rosa County to operate at maximum efficiency and lowest possible cost.
The First Call for Help line receives over 1,200 phone calls a year. Each of these calls is answered by a United Way First Call for Help specialist who refers the caller to the appropriate resource while also recording vital information about the caller that is imperative to compiling United Way of Santa Rosa County’s annual community needs assessment report. This report details critical community needs and breaks the needs down by focus area, location, population, and others.
In 2014, one specialist received a phone from a young female whose husband had left her and their two small children and was on the brink of homelessness after having received eviction notices from her landlord. “I just was so afraid and I could not think of anything else to do but call First Call for Help,” she explained. “First Call for Help and United Way were able to put my children and me up with an emergency shelter grant and we were able to escape homelessness. I am forever grateful.”
This one-stop information and referral service helps connect callers with local resources for help with disaster relief, housing, food, utilities, financial assistance, employment and more. First Call for Help’s number is 983-7200.