Earn sociology credit by volunteering at Illinois’ new 2-1-1 info phone number

A new information phone number, 2-1-1, is close to being available to northeastern Illinois residents and sociology students at a few Illinois colleges can earn credit for volunteering at the call centers:

The number is a free, nonemergency option for information on health and human service agencies, spearheaded by United Way. More than 30 states have coverage for 100 percent of their residents, as does Puerto Rico. Illinois and Arkansas are the only two states with less than 20 percent of residents able to dial 211, according to United Way Worldwide 2011 statistics…

Now though, David Barber, executive director of the United Way of Greater McHenry County, is working with six other local United Ways to create a similar collaborative across McHenry, Kane, Kendall and Lake counties. Barber is on the board of 211 Illinois and was the chairman for the committee that issued a request for information from potential 211 operators for downstate counties…

Local college students studying sociology or psychology could get real-world experience helping people in need by volunteering at the call centers for class credit — as Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan students already do. A single call center could serve the entire region or multiple call centers could be formed.

And data about the content of calls will be available to constantly improve service.

This is interesting that this service is making its way to more suburban areas. Chicago has had a popular 3-1-1 number for years. The Chicago number had 4.2 million calls last year. According to the FAQs, here are the “most requested city services in Chicago“:

  • Street Lights – All/Out
  • Graffiti Removal
  • Garbage Cart Black
  • Rodent Baiting/Rat Complaint
  • Shelter Request
  • Building Violation
  • Pot Hole in Street
  • Abandoned Vehicle Complaint

I would be interested to know what these sociology (and psychology) students encounter when answering these phone calls. How much could their sociological training come into play?

I am intrigued by the last idea quoted above: the phone number operates as a sort of voluntary needs-based assessment. On one hand, the phone number is not a representative sample of needs in an area and people may not call the phone number about certain issues. On the other hand, if a subject continually comes up, it could be some indication that services in that area are needed.