Aiken 211 informational system gaining popularity

By: Diane Cho
By: Diane Cho

If you live in Aiken County, you've probably dialed 211 to get important information.

The service provides phone numbers, even counseling 24 hours a day.

Its growing popularity is now requiring more volunteers than ever.

It's been around for more than a decade, but it took devastation as severe as the train collision and chemical spill that rocked the small town of Graniteville on January 6, 2005 for many to realize how crucial Aiken County's 211 system can be.

"By being there for Graniteville we took a lot of the load off police for information, and suddenly found out what a treasure this is," says volunteer Jim Schmidt.

It's a round-the-clock help line that can provide almost any information you need, or at least link you to the right person.

"Calls are spread out to legal services to finding out how to get a business license," Jim says.

But more often than not, it's the mere sound of a human voice on the other line the caller is looking for.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of talking and listening to them and giving them something positive to hold onto," says Jim.

And all of it is done in the comfort of a volunteer's home.

"It's not too bad. I can do other things; I cook and read while I'm waiting for a phone call," Jim says.

But to provide the service 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it takes dozens of volunteers to man the phone lines.

And in order to keep it that way, the help line needs more lending ears like Jim--especially if it goes nationwide.

Last month he says 10 shifts were left unfilled.

"There's not much difference between 211 and 911. Somebody in 911 is a physical situation; someone in 211 is in an emotional one," says Jim.

If you'd like to find out more on how you can help volunteer four or five hours of your time to help keep the service going, you can visit the help line's website at aiken211.org.


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