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Kemmie Giarde is a single mother of three boys, ages 3 (twins) and 6. They live in a rural area of the Columbia Gorge, where “the kids are in heaven,” she says, with a bit of room to be rambunctious without disturbing the neighbors. But before they landed there, Kemmie was under incredible stress while separating from the boys’ father. She didn’t know what the future held. She only knew she’d need help keeping her boys healthy, happy and sheltered from her concerns about becoming a single parent.
Kemmie’s situation is much like that of the 425,000 other people who contacted 211info Family last year. While the service is not just for single parents (it’s for anyone with questions or concerns about raising children), it can be a critical resource for those who are on their own in their search for basic resources like food, housing and economic opportunity. “Our goal is to make sure everyone in Oregon and Southwest Washington has their health and social services needs met,” says the director of marketing and communications at 211info, Curtis Waterbury. “We’re everyone’s front door to nonprofit, government and faith-based programs.”
“We are lucky to have 211 in our area,” says Robin Edwards, mother of a 2-year-old. “The operators and family specialists put a lot of energy into their work.”
For anyone in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Lane and Polk counties connected to children up to 8 years old, 211info Family offers solutions in several areas:
Calls are free, live and confidential. The line is staffed by masters-level professionals who also have the benefit of leveraging the 211info network database with thousands of community resources.
DIAL: 211, ext. 5
TEXT: the keyword “children” to 898211
Kemmie found 211info by asking other single parents how they managed. She quickly discovered that “the people at 211info are well-trained and genuinely caring. I have called while depressed, crying, despondent and indifferent and they were always the most kind, non-judgmental people to talk to. If they didn’t have the answer I was looking for, they were happy to look elsewhere or help me find it.”
There are roughly 3,000 agencies in 211’s database, providing over 50,000 programs. Bilingual staff take calls in Spanish, and all staff have access to an interpreter service with more than 140 languages. Operators at 211info help parents find resources, and family specialists offer strategies for success.
“I’m glad I was open to the many types of help they can give,” says Aminata Sesay, a single mother of one child, aged 9 months. She started using 211info when she was pregnant, on her midwife’s recommendation. Aminata discovered the service not only has “great information about housing, child care and medical care, but they found a place where I could learn to sew for free, places to get diapers, and a place to exchange things my child is not using for items he now needs.”
When a caller needs childcare-specific information, they are routed to an early childhood specialist. “211info is part of an overall effort to promote child wellness by connecting the community with information and services,” says 211info Family team lead Ashley Lawrence. “We also post commonly asked questions on our website and social media pages. It takes a village, and in our society, sometimes that village is me, when parents or other support systems aren’t close by, or a mother would rather talk to a childcare specialist than her own mother, to get outside perspective on her situation.”
Robin Edwards is mother to “a beautiful, soon-to-be 2-year-old son.” She studies sustainability, health and safety at Mt. Hood Community College. “My son and I are blessed to live with my father while I complete my education,” she says. “Through the support of a few trusted friends, and some family, I have been able to stay in school and raise my son, but issues still come up.”
For instance, Robin pays out of pocket for childcare, so money is tight. “211info has helped me get free, gently used clothing for my son. They’ve referred me to childcare resources, places to socialize the kiddos and meet other parents, and even transportation. They have family specialists who’ve helped me sort out my needs and talk me through a difficult period.”
Aminata adds, “People may think they have their own way of finding things, but I’ve sat on a computer for awhile trying to find resources for my situation, and didn’t find the things that 211 helped me find. 211info is the right place to go for any parent looking for resources. But especially as a single parent, you can feel isolated and alone. You don’t have to.”