FAIRMONT – Chris Yost starts every day at the office by checking his phone messages, returning calls and setting up meetings with his callers.
He speaks to a number of people, including those who have just had their utilities shut off, are not able to afford food and even some who have been evicted from their homes.
As the 2-1-1 AmeriCorps member for the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties, Yost provides these people with resources, but also often emotional support as well.
“I am almost like a moral support and a resource support for them,” Yost said. “Our mission statement is that sometimes you need more than an internet search, you need a conversation.”
Last year, United Ways across all of West Virginia took over the 2-1-1 service, which is a phone hotline meant to give callers information on emergency resources. Today is 2-1-1 Day, which Yost said is an initiative created to remind people of the purpose of the hotline, and how it could potentially help them.
“It’s a way to keep 2-1-1 in the minds of the public,” Yost said. “Just having a day every year to refresh memory of what 2-1-1 is, how it can help you and so on.”
According to Yost, dialing 2-1-1 on a phone will connect a caller with the local 2-1-1 operative, with local Marion County callers being connected to his line. He said it is similar to dialing 9-1-1, but for resource emergencies, which he will help provide callers with.
“2-1-1 is a national information and referral database,” Yost said. “You call 2-1-1 for a wide variety of social service needs. Anything from ‘How do I apply for Medicaid’ to ‘What do I do if my house burns down.’
“It’s designed to be the easiest step to take when you need help.”
Yost said people who call the 2-1-1 hotline are usually in some kind of crisis, so this day of recognition is to spread the word about the service to everyone, because anybody may dial it in the future.
“It’s critical that people know about 2-1-1 and we want to make sure that for every person, that’s the first number they think to call,” said Emily Swain, community impact director for the United Way. “We want to make sure the folks that need the service have the service, so that is meeting them where they are.”
Recently, Yost has been getting calls about utility problems, because the cold weather has people spending more on heating. He also said he often gets calls for low-income housing and shelter, which are common needs of the area.
“At this time of year we get a lot of utility problem calls,” Yost said. “We also get calls for low-income housing or emergency shelter, so those are the kind of core three that we see the most.”
Yost said that he stays in contact with many of the people who call 2-1-1, because their needs often continue past one call. As a 2-1-1 member, he stays in touch with callers to follow through on the help he provides to them.
“The people that contact me usually don’t just contact me once,” Yost said. “So they come to me in time of need, I help them initially, I help them further on down the line.”
Being tied to the United Way, Yost often refers callers to partner nonprofits funded by the United Way, many of which supply aid for issues relating to resource needs. Swain said that the United Way can also gauge the needs of the community through the calls to 2-1-1, and use that information to try to introduce new programs.
“That can help us as a United Way figure out where needs aren’t being met,” Swain said. “If we continually get calls and we don’t have a resource to refer someone to, then we know that it is an unmet need and we need to focus in on that.”
Swain also said she hopes 2-1-1 Day brings attention to the phone line, because some people may be going on without help because they don’t know about the opportunity.
“That’s why the day is so important and why visibility is so important,” Swain said. “If people don’t know about it, they can’t use it.”
Swain said she hopes people see the use of the 2-1-1 service, because it is a simple option for people, even considering the endless resources on the internet, as well as a comforting one.
“Compassion is one of the pillars of 2-1-1,” Yost said. “And we truly believe that sometimes just Googling things for hours and hours is more frustrating than just having someone who has the answers just tell them the answers.”
For Yost, being a resource for people in need is more than his job, he considers it his purpose. He said he is looking forward to helping more people, and reminds everyone to call 2-1-1 when in need.
“That’s my personal purpose in life, is to help as many people as I can,” Yost said. “So my personal mission aligns very well with the national mission of 2-1-1, which is, simply put, to help everyone.”