It’s hard to believe that 211 is 10 years old this year. This important community resource — to get help and to give it — is always within reach: Just dial any phone.

For those of you who don’t know, part of 211 is the crisis intervention service in our community and the place to get help with all sorts of community questions.

And ours is a particularly good one. Volunteers go through two days of training sessions and then give about four hours a week. Shifts are continuous, since 211 is a 24/7 operation.

They have a database at each call station to help out with the answers so that the information is accurate. Questions can range from “How do I volunteer” to “I’m in trouble. I want to kill myself.”

It takes a special kind of person to listen when the caller is a stranger in crisis. It takes empathy, kindness and a bit of internal strength to offer help, but to also resist escalating the drama involved with some of these calls. You learn how to help without feeling like you are personally responsible for another’s pain.

The local volunteers handle nearly 50,000 calls a year and have just started helping through online chat.

Callers appreciate the listening as much as, if not more than, the information, according to Charlotte Anderson, vice president of 211 services for Trident United Way.

She should know. Anderson has a deep history with our community and ran Hotline, the crisis intervention line, for many years before it was taken over by United Way in 2003.

She has helped train scores of volunteers over the years and still loves the training sessions that take place three times a year.

She says, “The experience teaches you a lot about the community, about helping and about yourself.”

And, of course, there’s a deep bond that develops between people who have rubbed shoulders with each other in a late-night shift, listening to strangers who are in need of a sympathetic ear.

“Volunteers are the heart and soul of our service,” Anderson says. “They expand our reach, keep us fresh and connect with callers in very real and meaningful ways. As call volume grows and we add chat, our need grows for greater coverage.”

The Federal Communications Commission reserved the 211 number in 2000 for this nationwide effort and now says that 90 percent of Americans have the service. According to the FCC website, “Dialing 211 helps the elderly, the disabled, those who do not speak English, those who are having a personal crisis, those who have limited reading skills, or those who are new to their communities, among others, by providing referrals to, and information about, health and human services organizations and agencies.”

What the FCC didn’t do was fund the service, so each community must figure out who will answer the 211 number. In our area, we should count our blessings that this service is planned and executed through experienced eyes and ears.

If you want to volunteer, new training sessions are starting soon. Just call 566-7184 or email

It’s worth the time and investment to help others.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or