Some say it takes a village to raise a child. We’d like to adapt that and say, it takes a village to support a person. A large reason why we can be successful in the work that we do is because our services are among many within the community. Many people hear about us because they are already working with other social service providers to improve their life. Financial management, savings and access to credit are key tools for working towards life goals. In addition, when we meet with clients, often they leave with a list of other organizations to contact or resources to look into. Our work is so intertwined with other community resources that it’s hard not to talk about them all the time! Over the past year, 211 info, the community resource of community resources, has helped us spread the word about our services. People can call or search through the 211 database to find resources that meet their needs. In a busy world where it can be difficult to navigate your way through a crisis or overwhelming to find out about all the services offered in your community, 211 makes this process easy and accessible. Because 211 has been an asset to our program, we checked in with Matt Kinshella, Director of Communications and Online Services at 211. Keep reading to hear what he has to say about connected communities!
I’m the Director of Communications and Online Services. As you know from working at a nonprofit, though, titles are far from all-encompassing. Among other things, I oversee our marketing/communications efforts, all our online service delivery (website, blog, social media, email) and lead the charge on some innovative ventures. I have been at 211info a little more than 3 years. I’ve always worked in either politics or the nonprofit sector. I just love working for good causes.
How has 211 changed over the time that you have been there?
We have grown immensely and are still growing. We have doubled our staff size, increased our 211 service area (we’ll be statewide by the end of the year) and expanded the ways in which we serve people. When I started here we were known as a general phone service. Now we provide so many more ways for people to get help. We receive the same number of website visits as we do phone calls. We just launched a new text messaging service that allows anyone to have a text conversation with someone in our office by texting their zip code to 898211. And we have a pretty successful email resource digest and social media presence.
We’re innovating on the phone, too. We have a range of new services including an on-staff parent educator. Soon we’ll have a military/veterans specialist, a health care specialist, housing specialist and a maternal and child health specialists. Very exciting time to be working at 211info!
How does Innovative Changes fit in with your/211s work?
Most importantly we are serving many of the same people. Of the 250,000-plus client contacts we make every year on the phone and web, very few of them have simple problems. Life’s challenges are multi-faceted and overwhelming at times. That means our neighbors need a network of service providers who can support them as complete human beings. We help make sure they know whom to turn to for all their issues. And you are there to make sure they get the financial education and support they need. Without that financial component people can’t emerge out of difficult situations. And there are many other providers that help out with food, housing, clothes and a myriad of other needs. This all takes teamwork, but it is completely worth the effort when we can bring stability to a person’s life.
What’s your vision for a more connected community that can utilize community resources effectively?
There’s a lot the community does well. But we still have growing to do when it comes to being connected. It is a cliche, but services are too siloed. I’m excited, being a technology dork, because conversations about how we can better use 21st century tools to break down barriers between agencies are happening everywhere. Our big picture goal is to give someone in need seamless access to services through integrated technology, give them the tangible and emotional support they need and empower them with knowledge and a plan.
Any success stories?
If you follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/211info) you’ll see a little story telling experiment I ran where I tried to tell caller stories in 140 characters or less. The basic notion behind it is we have too many great stories to tell, so let’s see how many micro stories we can share. Speaking of Twitter, though, one of my favorite stories is not about our traditional work (which is why I like it – I’m not very traditional).
Local homeless shelters were hit by an onslaught of requests for blankets. Early winter weather, really bad sleet, had hit Portland, and no one was prepared. The shelters asked for our help. In the past, before our Internet prowess, we would have been relatively helpless. If someone had called asking to donate, we would have been able to get them information. But not many people call for that sort of thing. This time, we were able to push the information out proactively. Moments after our call for blanket donations went out online, Twitter lit up. All sorts of people were interested in helping. The city really responded in an exciting way. City leaders, nonprofit folks, general citizens were all looking to pitch in. When the dust settled, in less than 20 hours, we had raised 1,000 blanket donations. It was a proud moment.
I’m jealous that you have “Innovative” in your organizational title. Because I and 211info are really passionate about looking at old problems in new ways. And then working with partners like you to find creative solutions. If we all keep thinking differently, we can all make a difference.