Aid at your fingertips by calling 211

By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star

(Photo by Theresa D. McClellan)
Fonetta Jones used to help people find assistance for a living. When she became unemployed, however, she found herself on the receiving end of the services she once helped provide. She is an expert with 211, a program that helps those in need financial help and employment opportunities.

Working in the food stamps program four years ago, Fonetta Jones knew how to refer clients searching for ways to feed their families.

When she became unemployed in October, however, she didn’t realize just how much calling 211 would help with every aspect of her life.

As she seeks fulltime employment, while working a part-time job at a local grocer, calling 211 became the gateway to a bevy of social services in Fort Bend County and beyond. Jones is one of the thousands of residents getting access to services, client management and help, just by dialing three little digits.

“I’ve got a part-time job but it’s not enough to cover everything. People know about food stamps, but I’m getting help with rent and career counseling with Thrive and getting job leads. Also, once situated, I will be saving to get a house, though that’s a long ways away,” said the 43-year-old mother of two teens.

Jones is just one example of the people who are getting help by calling 211, said Mary Vasquez, senior director of community impact for United Way of Greater Houston.

As hurricane and storm season approaches, Vasquez wanted to make sure that everyone knows the importance of calling 211 for services that are under the United Way umbrella.

She also wants everyone to know about two major grants to help the victims from the more than 1,200 homes that were affected by flooding last year. The Memorial Day flooding of the Brazos River in 2016 created unprecedented needs that are still current.

The United Way of Greater Houston received a $1.26 million grant in 2017 and up to $1.79 million grant for 2018 from The George Foundation and the Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation.

Following the disaster, United Way and the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) convened nearly 70 nonprofit, church and governmental groups, known as Fort Bend Recovers, to provide immediate and long-term recovery support to residents.

Fort Bend Recovers, a long-term recovery group facilitated by United Way in partnership with the OEM, will implement the recovery program in collaboration with Attack Poverty, Catholic Charities, Family Houston, Fort Bend Corps, Fort Bend County Social Services, Houston-Galveston Institute, Katy Christian Ministries, Mental Health America of Fort Bend County and many other participating member organizations.

Through the grant, Fort Bend Recovers will assist area flood victims with long-term recovery needs such as case management, which connects members of the community with nonprofit liaisons to ensure everyone who is in need of aid receives it.

Services includes behavioral health, which assists residents with mental and emotional health resources; home repairs, which ensures homes are safe, sanitary and secure; and basic needs funding to cover food, clothing and financial assistance.

The George Foundation and The Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation, both based in Fort Bend County, work to positively impact county residents by investing in nonprofit efforts that address critical community needs and enhance quality of life.

For inquiries about flood-recovery assistance through Fort Bend Recovers, area residents are encouraged to call the Fort Bend Recovers Information Line at 281-207-2555 for more information on available services.

211 the 24-hour a day seven days a week information referral phone lines provides information and resources for meeting basic needs such as food, shelter, rent and utility assistance.

“They give us their zip code and we search for assistance near their home. They can be connected not only to local but those at the statewide level,” said Vasquez.

In Fort Bend County the 211 referral line received more than 28,000 calls for assistance last year. The primary need is medical care, food and utility assistance, low income housing, children services and veterans. Nearly 800 of those calls come from veterans seeking services.

“We do extensive follow up with our veterans and seniors to make sure they get what they need. For added convenience, the Stafford office offers walk-in service,” Vasquez said.

Fort Bend County’s United Way of Greater Houston is in Stafford at 12300 Parc Crest, located off West Airport Road near Murphy Road houses Health and Human Services.

“We have counseling , physical therapy for kids with developmental needs, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Thrive for full-time employment and financial coaching,” Vasquez said.

So whether the disaster is a sudden calamity like the Memorial Day floods or the tsunami effect of underemployment, the United Way’s 211 referral line can become a lifeline.

“When you call 211 looking for help, they look at why you are in that situation and then they come up with a plan to help,” said Jones, who wants to pursue a career in the nonprofit or government work.

“Helping people is where my heart lies. They have helped me and I want to do the same,” said.

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