Aaron Reid, President and CEO, United Way of Warren County

A collaboration of neighboring United Way organizations, including United Way of Warren County and Butler County United Way, have joined forces to launch HelpLink 2-1-1, an information and referral helpline for health and human services.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, calls are answered by professionally-trained operators who have ready resources through a directory of social service agencies.

With the new initiative, residents in need may phone 2-1-1 to reach a live operator. Individuals who have pre-paid mobile phones, or mobile phones with a non-local area code may call (855) 405-7629 for assistance; the TDD phone number is (937) 910-6040. The HelpLink 2-1-1 resource directory may also be accessed online at www.211.org.

We spoke with Aaron Reid, president and CEO, United Way of Warren County to find out more about his leadership role with the organization, and how he’s working with other area United way leaders to head up this new program.

Q: Tell us about yourself, your role and how you are involved with this new program.

A: I'm the president and CEO with United Way of Warren County. I have been working with some of our neighboring United Way's, including Butler County United Way, United Way of Clinton County, United Way of Oxford, Ohio and Vicinity and United Way of the Greater Dayton Area to develop this 2-1-1 collaborative, which brings this service in a combined fashion to each of the service areas that each of our United Way organizations are responsible for. You can go to www.211.org, and type in a zip code, a city or town name, and that will take the user to the web page that has the resources for their specific area…We found that we could achieve scales, and dramatically lower the cost associated with of 2-1-1 by joining into this collaborative with our neighboring United Way's, and that's how this came about.

Q: What is the 2-1-1 initiative and what is it designed to do?

A: If someone has a social service, or I like to say human service need, let's say someone recently lost their job and they are having trouble paying the bills, and they are having to make decisions between what gets paid, what doesn't get paid, maybe they're not able to afford enough food to feed their children, they can dial 2-1-1 on their phone and explain their need to the operator that answers, and if there's a resource available in that person's community to address that need, then they can provide that referral to them.

Q: When was 2-1-1 launched, and what kind of response have you seen so far from the community?

A: It was officially launched on July 1. The feedback that I've received from some of the organizations that we work with here in Warren County is they are glad this is a resource that's available to them. It's not just for an individual. If there's a human services organization that has a case worker that is working with an individual or a family, then that case worker can call 2-1-1. There's been a lot good feedback from the agencies in terms of this being a resource that saves them time and money, because they don't have to do the research to find out what the resources are, because that's already been accomplished with 2-11.

Q: It sounds like 2-1-1 is a liaison between an individual or someone that is working with an individual and a resource?

A: Yes. It can be an individual that doesn't want to work with an organization, and they pick up their phone and say, "I'm having trouble putting food on the table, do you know of any resources that are available?"

Q: Do you have any statistics, or do you know what the potential reach is?

A: There's 600,000 people just in Butler and Warren Counties. If you throw in Clinton County, it's close to 700,000 people, and with the Dayton area added in, it's way over a million people. I don't know what the exact numbers are, but it will take it to over a million people if you include Montgomery County.

Q: Why is there a need for this collaborative program?

A: I started in 2011, and we had a 2-1-1 program that was run here, just in Warren County. It was not very efficient. It was one of the first things that I quickly discovered – it wasn't performing well, it wasn't efficient and it was costing way too much money. I think it was $34 dollars a call. So, it was a no-brainer to get rid of that program, but I had seen the value of the program, if it could be done in a cost-efficient manner. Regardless of how effective United Way's are, or how effective other nonprofit organizations are, there's always going to be people in need. There's always going to be someone that loses their job, unexpectedly, or gets sick, unexpectedly, or if something happens that at no fault of their own, they are going to need some help. So, having a resource like this available where someone would have somewhere to turn, and not have to navigate the system themselves, I always saw tremendous value in that. But, then, I have to think about it from a business perspective, and it has to be done in a cost-efficient manner. Margaret (Mag) Baker, president/CEO of Butler County United Way, and some of (our partners at the other United Way's,) who were trying to take this statewide, presented the idea, "What if we collaborated on this?"- so we could hit the scale we need to, and hit the price points that we need to – Then, I said, "Let's talk. I'd be happy to talk about it, because I think would be a tremendous resource for this community." And, now that we've got the collaborative going, it's not a bunch of silos doing it, it's all centralized and being coordinated, which brings a lot of efficiency to it.

Q: What are some of the benefits of the collaborative?

A: United Way's are often thought of as the place to turn if there are needs in the community. And, while we may have community resource directories on our Website, like we do now, or like Butler County may have had before, it helps us serve a larger number of people in the community, even though it's being done, indirectly, through the 2-1-1. It's also gone a long way to continue to strengthen the great relationships that we have with our fellow United Way's in terms of some of the common things that we are doing to try to impact the community.

Q: Is HelpLink 2-1-1 getting a good response? Is the word getting out?

A: Yes. We've pushed it to all of the organizations we have contacts with in Warren County, so the word is definitely out there. The collaborative is also working on a joint marketing plan right now that will probably be rolled out this fall.

Q: One need we talked about might be putting food on the table. Can you give us a couple other examples of practical help or resources that if somebody calls, they would have access to?

A: Someone might have an electric shut-off notice that they've fallen behind for one reason or another, and they need temporary assistance with electrical. There could be a senior citizen, who needs to find resources in the community that can help them to be able to stay in their home, instead of going into nursing care. Warren County Community Services here in Warren County has a lot of senior programs that they could refer people to. So, the temporary emergency assistance, and senior services are big ones. And something that's coming down the road here soon, and something that's being worked on are veteran's services, and the needs that veteran's might have…I know we get a lot of calls at our office of people who are at risk, or who are homeless. Counseling is another big one.

Q: What’s your background and what brought you to your current role?

A: I'm a Central Ohio native. I spent most of my life in Central Ohio. I moved out of state from 2004 to 2011. And, I worked at a United Way in Maryland, where I had moved to. I was an assistant director there. I wanted to get back to Ohio, because I loved the Midwest, so I was looking for jobs in Ohio. I had just finished grad school in international business, which has helped me to see things from a business perspective. So, I was looking for a job like a CEO of a nonprofit, specifically at United Way's. I was also considering going the corporate America route. The job was open here, and I interviewed for it. I guess they liked me, (laughs) and they hired me.

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