Ad Spot

First Call For Help' established in Meridian

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
July 21, 2003
The United Way of East Mississippi, along with other partners, on Thursday will unveil a new information referral service and demonstrate a new Web site.
The "First Call for Help" kickoff will begin at 10 a.m. at Kahlmus Auditorium at Mississippi State University-Meridian Campus. The Web site is and is set to be online by Thursday.
People wanting information about available nonprofit social and health care services can use the Web site or call 693-1211. Callers can receive help between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Louis Sutton, chief professional officer and president of the local United Way, and Leslie York, safety manager at Boeing Co., discussed "First Call for Help" with The Meridian Star editorial board last week.
York was a member of the Leadership Lauderdale class that set out to establish the service two years ago. The effort is part of a larger goal to establish similar help lines throughout the state and nation.
The Meridian Star: What went into setting up the "First Call for Help" system?
Louis Sutton: Basically, we've developed a database working with the interagency council and nonprofit organizations throughout the community. It's one we can easily update and easily research.
The interagency council is a group that meets monthly. All nonprofit agencies in the county are invited to join. We go over our programs and opportunities so that each one of us can know what the other does so in cases where my agency can't meet a person's need I'm aware of your agency and I can refer them to you. Word of mouth is basically how our referral system had been operating.
The Star: When did this project begin?
Leslie York: The project evolved out of the Leadership Lauderdale program back in 2000. I was in that Leadership Lauderdale class, which was a two-year program, and we had to identify a project we wanted to tackle and take on that we saw as a community need.
When we went through the community building blocks and the social services one of the things we kept hearing is that there is no one place for people to go to find out what was available for assistance as far as resources. For instance, I don't have money for utilities, or I don't have food for the kids, or we just rolled into town and ran out of gas and we don't have a place to stay.'
What would happen is a lot of the calls would naturally wind up at United Way by default and they don't provide direct service. They were looking through a printed directory of what Meridian and Lauderdale County had, but that's obviously dated the day it is printed.
The Star: How has the project grown?
York: The process over the last two years has been identifying grants and figuring out the best way to do it. We decided to partner and house it as a United Way program.
There are basically two audiences it serves: One, a person who has a need can call the telephone number. The other way to access the system is via the Web. The other people who use that will be social service providers to refer their clients to other places or talk amongst themselves to assist clients.
Agencies also can post volunteer opportunities and wish lists of things that they need.
We'll also be able to see what unmet needs we have. If we start getting calls for areas and there is no place to refer them, those get tracked also. So when you go into grant applications for those types of things you already know what sort of audience there is for that.
The Star: Isn't it a little bit of a progression for United Way since you usually dealt with agencies and not the individual?
Sutton: Exactly. What we're trying to do is connect people with the resources in the community. We're trying to bridge a gap by directing individuals to both United Way and non-United Way services in the community.
The Star: Is there any cost associated with this and how is that covered?
York: Basically, it's considered a program of United Way as opposed to an agency so there is some allocation from the board but it is very minimal.
Sutton: One of the grant positions we've gotten from the Corporation of National Service is a paid participant who will answer our telephone line. We have that person for three years and during that time we will train volunteers to use the system and sustain the system.
We also received a grant from Families First, working with the Multi-County Community Service Agency, to develop the Web site.
This was mainly made possible through the leadership of the United Way Capital Area. They made a major investment in the database and have provided it to other United Ways across the state in order for us to have one, uniform system so that eventually when we go to a statewide (help line) system we will be able to roll over to a 24-hour service and will have the same database. It's a statewide effort and we want to be sure we uphold our part of the state to fit in the big picture.
The Star: How are you going to inform people about "First Call for Help?"
Sutton: We'll have printed brochures that we will pass out on Thursday. We'll put them in libraries and schools and agencies. We're going to work with WTOK on some public service announcements. And we'll be in the phonebook.