Straight Talk: Evelyn Szpliet

Evelyn Szpliet is the director of Manistee County 2-1-1.

2-1-1 director on a mission to get information to residents

MANISTEE — The Manistee County 2-1-1 launched in February 2010, and since then, it has lived up to expectations, according to director Evelyn Szpliet. The News Advocate sat down with Szpliet to discuss 2-1-1 and how it can help area residents.

MNA: What is 2-1-1?

SZPLIET: 2-1-1 is a free 3-digit telephone number for non-emergency situations.

The national program was first developed in Atlanta in 1997, and many states began to develop their own plans soon after. Now, over 85 percent of the nation is connected to the system. In addition, over 95 percent of Michigan residents have access to the benefits of 2-1-1.

The first discussions about a 2-1-1 system in Manistee County started over 15 years ago. A brilliant community advocate, By Lyon, was the champion behind the early planning of the system for our residents. 2-1-1 was publicly launched in February of 2010 in Manistee County.

MNA: What ways can 2-1-1 help people around Manistee County?

SZPLIET: 2-1-1 call specialists are highly trained, compassionate professionals – they realize how tough it can be for citizens, especially during the holidays. They can help our residents connect with a warm, friendly Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas food basket, Adopt-a-Family, homeless shelters and other seasonal resources. Callers can find out the details by dialing into the system.

They also provide year-round information and referrals regarding youth programs, senior, veteran and tribal services, housing and utility assistance and so much more.

(When people call) they are empowered with the information to help their situation, and move forward. The call specialists will also ask them to call back and follow-up.

MNA: What are the current conditions in Manistee County?

SZPLIET: Manistee County is very lucky to have such wonderful service providers and community leaders that care about their residents and the needs in our community.

2-1-1 is another valuable example how Manistee County is excelling when it comes to resources for our citizens.

Through the 2-1-1 system we have learned the most requested resources in Manistee County are housing and utility assistance. This is the same across the region and throughout the state.

MNA: How is 2-1-1 funded?

SZPLIET: 2-1-1 is completely non-profit and is funded through public and private partnerships.

It helps reduce poverty and encourages prosperity. In Manistee County, over 8.5 million dollars from the Department of Human Services programs are distributed to households annually. There are even more dollars from Salvation Army, Love INC, Earned Income Tax Credit programs, Goodwill Housing and others.

The cost of 2-1-1 is about $1.50 per person based on population annually, 2-1-1 is very affordable for a countywide telephone system that has the capacity to touch every senior citizen, veteran, family, household and constituent in Manistee County.

MNA: How else does it help?

SZPLIET: 2-1-1 is also a vital alternate telephone infrastructure to assist 9-1-1 with non-emergency calls during disasters.

For example, in 2008, when we had that severe weather, Manistee County did not have their 2-1-1 yet, but Mason County did. So they tapped into the 2-1-1 system to direct calls regarding safe drinking water, evacuations, traffic, and driving routes. Those types of calls shouldn’t go into 9-1-1. 9-1-1 is there to serve for life and death situations only, so 2-1-1 had that capacity to take those non-emergency calls.

MNA: Is it only you? Are there volunteers?

SZPLIET: We have a committee of highly trained volunteers in the community. It’s called the 2-1-1 Action Team, and they have been together for seven years now.

MNA: What has been the biggest struggle?

SZPLIET: I would like to see more agencies using the system and sharing the message of the system. That’s what we really need help with, is the community awareness. I would like to be able to reach everyone in Manistee County and let them know, and educate them about 2-1-1. That’s the ongoing goal, because you may never have the opportunity to speak to every individual.

MNA: How can people help?

SZPLIET: The entire 2-1-1 system is database driven and depends on the accurate reporting of local agencies, networks, individuals and organizations to keep the information vibrant for our callers.

We encourage people to contact us with program updates or if there are additional public resources serving Manistee County that should be included in the system. Plus, sharing the information regarding the benefits of 2-1-1 with friends or family helps us serve more people more effectively.

Free 2-1-1 training and presentations to help share the message are also available by contacting the local administrative office at 723-2331 or emailing Evelyn@ask211.org.

MNA: Is there anything else you want to add?

SZPLIET: The 2-1-1 database is available by dialing into the call center or visiting the website 24 hours day, 7 days a week –   similar to 911.  Neither 9-1-1 nor 2-1-1 are used every day by everyone – but still available to anyone, all the time.

When progressive organizations provide funding for 2-1-1 they are supporting every resident and numerous agencies in our county through the 2-1-1 system. Everyone can use 2-1-1 – no matter what their situation, social status or education. 2-1-1 is here to serve all our agencies, governmental entities, 9-1-1, emergency management teams and non-profit organizations while helping connect people in need to people with solutions.

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Posted by Eric Sagonowsky

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