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First Call For Help Assists 2,500 Annually

How are your United Way dollars at work in your community?  How does giving from the heart really help people in need?

First Call For Help information and referral program is a free telephone helpline for people in need to call to locate resources that are available to help them.  The helpline was established in 1999 covering Cape Girardeau county and then expanded to cover four additional counties.  The program also offers a website that can be used to search for available resources in the five county area. 

What does an information and referral program do to help people? 
First Call For Help maintains a database of all social service agencies in a five county area with details about the services provided and the eligibility requirements.  When a person calls the helpline with a need, the social worker assesses the situation with appropriate questions and then provides referrals to agencies that assist with the identified need.  Sounds very simple and easy but most cases are not that straightforward. When a person in need calls for one thing, generally there are many other needs that the person has.  The assessment process is designed to provide referrals for the initial need but also to identify any additional needs that the caller may have.  For instance, a person may call needing help with food.  Appropriate referrals are given for food but the assessment questions are designed to identify why the caller is in need of food.  Did the person miss work for a sick child and now their paycheck is short? Did the person lose their job?  The number of reasons are as many as the callers themselves.  From there, additional assistance is provided to help the caller with any other issues they may face. If the caller is without a job, referrals to appropriate employment assistance programs are given.  If the caller is underemployed due to educational level, appropriate referrals are given to assist with that as well.  The caller then has enough information to take care of the immediate need for food and also has additional information to help them with the overall issue that lead to the need for food.

What happens if an individual needs help working through the many steps to obtain assistance?
Through case assistance, First Call For Help works with the caller when they require additional help in accessing the services they are referred to or to verify eligibility in special circumstances.  The social worker walks the caller through each step of obtaining the needed service or, if appropriate, makes contact with service providers on behalf of the caller.  If there is a situation where no resources can be found, creative problem solving is used to find help for the caller in a different area that may, in turn, alleviate the original issue.  The case assistance process can take a day or two or can be more long term, depending on the case situation.   An example would be the senior citizen who calls needing help on the cost of their medications but is unable to follow multiple instructions that are given to apply for discount programs.  For this particular senior, First Call For Help obtained permission from the senior to contact the referral agencies on his behalf, explain his situation and what services he was needing.  Appointments were made for the senior who did not know where the agencies were located.  Giving all the directions at one time became difficult for the senior, so First Call For Help called the senior each day that he had an appointment and supplied directions to the agency that he was driving to that day. Once the senior had an established relationship with each agency, those agencies then took on the case management role in place of First Call For Help.  Without the case assistance from First Call For Help, the senior would not have been able to afford his medications and he would not have been connected with agencies that could continue to work with him on a long term basis.  

How long does a First Call for Help social worker case take?
While there are situations in which they only have one phone call with an individual, sometimes case assistance can last much longer.  First Call For Help received a call from a man who was needing help obtaining his glasses.  The original call came in February 2016 and the case was officially closed in December 2016 when the caller finally received his glasses.  First Call For Help worked very closely with the client and his vision care provider during those 11 months to manage a very unmanageable situation.  The caller was legally blind without his glasses and needed new glasses due to vision changes that were verified in an eye exam.  The caller had disability benefits, which means he was living on a very fixed income and he had Medicaid.   When the caller contacted First Call For Help, he was needing help paying for his glasses because he said Medicaid would not pay for them.  He was very confused why Medicaid would not pay for this service.  The caller supplied permission for First Call For Help to contact the vision care provider to get more details on the situation.  The vision care provider explained that Medicaid does not pay for anything labeled “custom” and the type of glasses that the caller needed had to be “custom” made due to his vision issues.  First Call For Help began researching this situation by making calls to both local and state officials to find a way to help the caller with this roadblock.  After many calls and emails, a little known program through the state was located that would pay for the glasses.  However, so much time had passed during this process that the eye exam was no longer current and anther exam was needed. Medicaid only pays for one exam every two years so client still could not get his glasses because he could not afford the vision exam.  Fortunately, a service provider was found with funds to help pay for the exam and a request was made.  The approval came a few days later and arrangements were worked out with the vision care provider to accept payment from an agency on behalf of the caller.  After 11 months, the caller had his new glasses and was very grateful.  

So what does all this mean when you give to the United Way?
When you give from the heart, your dollars are hard at work meeting the needs of those in our community who don’t know where to go for help.  Those that are facing unknown or unmanageable situations are being helped by you.  First Call For Help opens on average, 2,500 cases per year.  That’s a lot of people you helped!  Thank you for giving from the heart!