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Info Line celebrates history of service

10/28/2010 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Richard Stahl, president and CEO of Info Line, is shown during a presentation on the agency’s services during the Oct. 14 open house to mark the agency’s 35th anniversary.
Photo courtesy of Info Line
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Info Line celebrated its 35th year of providing information and referrals on human services and community resources to residents in Summit County this month.

During that time, what was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1975 has grown to include several other services that it provides to people, from those seeking quality child care to those faced with the possibility of homelessness.

Richard Stahl is president and CEO of Info Line, a position he’s held for a decade. He said the agency’s formative years were during a time of increased interest in providing information to people about social services available to them.

“A lot of information referral programs started in the early to mid-’70s based on significant federal government interest in seeing programs such as that to be developed,” Stahl said. “There was a growing need for services as well as an increase in the number of nonprofit and charitable health and human service organizations, and people were having difficulty finding where to go.”

Representatives from community agencies decided it would be best to create Info Line as its own entity, with a plan taking shape by 1974. Within a year, the service was up and running.

At that time, without the help of computers, gathering information on providers and keeping it current was a challenge.

“Back then the initial project was all on cardstock,” Stahl said.

Another challenge at the beginning was finding qualified staff with broad enough experience that they understood all the service delivery systems, Stahl said.

“They had to be both social work folks and information specialists too,” Stahl said.

Today Info Line’s referral line is accessible to county residents by calling 2-1-1. Stahl said the line receives about 65,000 calls a year.

In the years that followed Info Line’s establishment, the service began offering legal and medical information through recordings that could be accessed by phone, Stahl said. But he added the most significant added service was MedAssist, which began in 1983.

“One of the good things about an information referral system is you find out quickly where there are gaps in service,” Stahl said. “We found that low income, uninsured residents had no way to get free or low-cost medications.”

MedAssist, which is still a service today, helps people secure medication they need and also refers them to local free or reduced-cost medical care.

“It has grown tremendously,” Stahl said. “Last year we were able to leverage $1.4 million of medication into this community.”

Child Care Connection is another service that was created in 1990.

“Since that time it’s grown substantially,” Stahl said. “It started as a resource and referral program, but that’s now a minor activity of that program. Now we’re helping improve the quality of child care in a six-county region.”

The effort now provides training for child-care providers and assesses centers, Stahl said.

Residents who are homeless or in transition can benefit from Info Line’s Community Voice Mail program, which started up in 2008. Staff works with partner agencies to set up voice mailboxes for clients so they have a reliable way to receive messages from family members, medical providers and potential employers and landlords.

Info Line has added another program to help those who are at risk for homelessness. Home Again is a collaboration of several Summit County social service agencies, which together operate the Homeless Prevention Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).

“We serve as the initial intake and clearing house for individuals who have been or are on the verge of becoming homeless through no fault of their own,” Stahl said. “We work to get them re-established in permanent housing, whether it’s a new apartment or keeping them in their current house.”

To mark its anniversary, Info Line held a breakfast for some of its partners Oct. 5 and then an open house on Oct. 14.

As for the agency’s future, Stahl said he sees the need for increased services for those who have been hit hard by the economy, as well as residents who are returning to the community after being incarcerated.

“The demand for basic services — including housing and homelessness-related stuff, as well as food, housing and utility assistance — has gone up dramatically in the last couple of years,” Stahl said. “We feel we have a significant role to play there.”

For additional information on Info Line and its services, call 2-1-1 or go to www.infolineinc.org.

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