Assistance offered through 211 calls
MORGAN CITY, La. -- Where do you go when you need help? In many instances the answer is just three digits away.
If you dial 211 you can locate blue tarps after a hurricane; food, shelter, water or MREs after an emergency; counseling during a crisis; housing if you can’t afford typical housing; along with medical, dental and other social services when you are not sure where to turn.
It is almost as if 211 were the offspring from the marriage of 411 (information) and 911 (emergency assistance).
The organization now known as 232-HELP Inc. began in 1965 as the Southwest Louisiana Information and Referral Center Inc. While its name has changed, its purpose has remained constant; to identify, catalogue and better connect people in need, to social service providers. It is one of six designated 211 Centers in Louisiana, the first such agency in Louisiana and the fourth in the nation, according to Rae Logan, executive director of 232-HELP.
In July 2000, the Federal Communications Commission reserved 211 for organizations designed to disseminate rapid information and referrals for health and human services.
While 232-HELP(4357) still functions as a valid phone number for the informational agency in southwest Louisiana, it is simpler to just dial 211. Logan said the service area covers 10 parishes including St. Mary and Terrebonne, serving over 700,000 people.
As Logan described the process of directing a person to needed assistance and services, she said that the agency could be accurately described as a triage of information. She said that often during emergencies there is a lot of false information and rumors floating around. By dialing 211, people can determine the veracity of things they may have heard or been told.
Sometimes an area or region has a need for a service that is unavailable. Logan said that 232-HELP tries to “incubate and nurture” programs that fill those needs. One service offered is a “loaner” program for wheelchairs, crutches and walkers for people that need them but cannot afford to purchase them. She said that 23 wheelchairs were loaned last year.
Another need that 232-HELP has tried to address is dental treatment for elderly, disabled or medically compromised citizens that would otherwise be unable to be treated because they cannot afford it. The 232-HELP Donated Dental Program was launched in 1988 to provide free dental treatment to those that meet financial need-based criteria.
A pre-dental scholarship in conjunction with the Donated Dental Program has recently been instituted by 232-HELP in collaboration with University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In addition to the $250 per semester scholarship, the recipient works at least 10 hours a week in a paid internship as a dental hygienist.
Logan said that Berwick High graduate and ULL sophomore Kabrini Rochel was recently named the first recipient of the scholarship. She said Rochel’s 3.8 grade point average in college courses and her work ethic were significant factors in being chosen for the scholarship.
“Entrance into dental school is very competitive and the experience I am getting (from the internship) will help me,” said Rochel. Additionally she said that she finds the work to “be really rewarding. You know that you are doing something to help somebody else.”
Rochel hopes to be accepted into LSU dental school in New Orleans.
More than 10 million callers have been assisted by 232-HELP in its nearly half century as an information and referral service, Logan said. This includes individuals, families, businesses, faith-based organizations and other non-profit agencies. The other designated 211 Centers in Louisiana are in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Shreveport and Monroe.
The 211 service is operated in almost every state of the United States as well as in parts of Canada with the same intent of providing information and referrals to where callers can obtain assistance from local, state and national social service programs.