"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

First Call For Help

We suppose you know you’re getting old when you start thinking about the “good old days.” The days when the first people you turned to for help were members of your family, friends, neighbors, your community. Now your “first call for help” is to the government. How did this happen and does it matter?

These questions got us to thinking about the book Bowling Alone. In a nutshell, the book argues that civil society is breaking down as Americans became more disconnected from their families, neighbors, communities, and the republic itself. The organizations that gave life to democracy are fraying.

As the book’s author Robert Putnam points out, “Our growing social-capital deficit threatens educational performance, safe neighborhoods, equitable tax collection, democratic responsiveness, everyday honesty, and even our health and happiness.”

We think Putnam has a strong point, one that immediately came to mind when we came across this account:

"Faced with a dramatic increase in the number of agencies and help lines, people often didn't know where to turn,” said Fran Palm, the executive director of First Call for Help. A new statewide help line for New Jersey residents seeking information from social service, government or community sources was launched this past week to help alleviate the confusion.

In 2002, the state Board of Public Utilities designated the NJ 211 Partnership, a subsidiary of United Ways of New Jersey, with the task of making the national 211 information line operational throughout New Jersey.

"211 is a single, simple, statewide phone number that all residents can use to get information on any number of social services, governmental services and community resources," said State Health and Senior Services Commissioner James Davy. "211 can provide the 'where-to-go' and 'how-to-apply' for such programs as food stamps, New Jersey FamilyCare, substance abuse assistance and homeless shelters.”

Free and confidential, the 211 service is available via landlines and cell phones throughout the state 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information also is available via TTY/TTD services and in various languages, including Spanish.

The program, including the United Way's 10 regional call centers, is funded through the Department of Human Services, the state's United Way organizations and corporate donations from Verizon. The state contributed $600,000 toward the program this year.



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