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Fort Worth Social Service Providers Collaborate

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Fort Worth Social Service Providers Collaborate

Fort Worth, TX –

Rebecca Wright, Information and Referral Specialist, United Way 211: 211 Texas, How may I help you? You're in the city of Fort Worth?

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 reporter: At the 2-1-1 phone bank in the United Way of Tarrant County headquarters, Rebecca Wright helps a caller seeking information on anger management.

Wright: I can give you this information but we also offer an assessment that we can see if there are other resources that can assist you. Are you interested in that? [mouse clicks, unidentified male voice heard quietly through receiver] You need help? OK.

Cuellar: 2-1-1 is a non-emergency information and referral service established in 2002 by the United Way to refer callers to its member agencies, or to government services. They received more than 68 thousand calls in 2004, a 15% increase over 2003. The United Way is also a member of the Mental Health Connection. Fort Worth public health worker Sherwin Daryani says their vision is to make sure there is "No Wrong Door to the Right Services."

Sherwin Daryani, Project Director of Community Solutions, Fort Worth Public Health Department: That means if somebody walks into any agency, whether that agency can provide the services or not, that agency will make sure that that person gets the services they need. We're not there yet, but everybody that's a member of this is working really hard to make sure this happens.

Cuellar: A campaign called Open Doors, Open Minds is also working to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, which keeps half of the population in need from seeking services. Messages in English and Spanish on billboards around town and bookmarks in schools promote understanding of the disease. President and CEO Tim Carter says the United Way monitors the community constantly to set goals and measure progress.

Tim Carter, President and CEO, United Way of Tarrant County: One of the things we do and have done over the last 15 years is a Tarrant County assessment to take an inclusive look at what's happening in Tarrant County across the spectrum, with kids, with education, with seniors, with wellness, with mental health, and with child abuse. We're looking at all of those and measuring those.

Cuellar: That evaluation led to two other campaigns currently underway. Four years ago, before obesity became a hot health topic, the United Way began spotting disturbing trends in health. So they developed a game plan to promote healthy lifestyle habits called Fit Future for Tarrant County.

Then last year, more than 3,000 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported in Tarrant County, including 13 child deaths. The United Way responded this spring with an awareness campaign called Don't Turn Away.

This week the Mental Health Connection celebrated a mid-point in their three-year plan to increase understanding of mental illness and treatment available. The group decorated a conference room at the Tarrant County Juvenile Justice Center for a festive information fair. In one of the booths, United Way assistant vice president Pat Cheong described new goals.

Pat Cheong, Assistant Vice President, United Way of Tarrant County: The other thing we wanted to do was form a media watch committee to prepare either editorials or letters to the editor that would kind of present the facts about mental illness and also to provide resources in the community about where to go for help.

Cuellar: United Way and the Mental Health Connection are off to a good start. Fort Worth dropped from sixth to 14th place this year in the Men's Health annual survey of America's fattest cities. And newspaper and TV spots for Don't Turn Away generated as many 2-1-1 calls on child abuse and neglect in the first three weeks of the campaign as in all of 2004. It may take years to realize the full benefits, but Tarrant County health service providers believe their innovative collaboration is worth the effort

For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.


Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.