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By: Madeline Fox
If you dialed 211 in Miami in September of 2016 and again after the new year, you probably wouldn’t have noticed any difference. But on January 1, the helpline and its services quietly transferred from Switchboard Miami, the organization that had overseen them since 1968, to Jewish Community Services of South Florida.
Switchboard had been struggling financially since early 2016.
“They just lacked the cash to continue to provide services at the level they were required to by all their grants,” says JCS CEO Fred Stock.
Listen Listening…1:10 For 211 callers, not much has changed about the service since the New Year. But it took a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes to ensure that seamless transition.
In September of last year, the organization came Stock to ask whether JCS could keep the hotline going. Stock agreed, realizing that taking over the 211 help center and its associated services would help JCS expand its reach in the community.
“We are one of the oldest family service agencies in Dade County, and while we are under Jewish auspices, our mission is to serve the entire community,” he says. “The opportunity to pick up Switchboard’s program greatly increases our impact within the community and expands our capacity to serve.”
What followed were several months of frenzied activity. Switchboard had to be dissolved, and its phone numbers, services and operating grants had to be transferred to JCS.
JCS already provided services to children, seniors, LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations in Miami-Dade county. Stock says taking on the 211 helpline extends those services.
“We bring a level of understanding, we recognize the importance of the services and we have the capacity to do this because of our infrastructure,” he says. “It made perfect sense.”
The sounds of English, Spanish and Creole as hotline staffers work to help callers haven’t changed. The only difference since JCS’s takeover is invisible to callers – now, hotline staffers take calls and answer messages to its online texting service from the second floor of the JCS building in North Miami.