United Way's Mass211 Call Center
Every working parent knows that the secret to getting - and keeping - their job is child care. But accessing child care, especially affordable and subsidized programs, can often be a complicated and time-consuming activity.

United Way of Tri County is using its stimulus-funded child care development grant that it received through the state's Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to get parents the information they need. The non-profit agency received a $150K stimulus award to help EEC improve their phone communications and ensure that parents are getting the information on child care that they need.

Using Mass211, a statewide information and referral call center, which is managed by United Way of Tri County and is reached by dialing 211 from anywhere in the state, the agency is helping working parents find their way to the child care information they need.

The service is the official call center for the state's Massachusetts Emergency

United Way of Tri County Staff
Management Agency (MEMA), Department of Public Health (DPH) and EEC and can receive anywhere from 300 calls a day to thousands in times of crisis. The child care line receives between one and two hundred calls a day. Mass211's child care database has information on 4,000 agencies and 16,000 services.

Jeffrey Simon, Director of the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office, which runs the stimulus program for the state, made a visit to the call center at the behest of Governor Deval Patrick, who instructed Simon, who runs the stimulus program for the state, to see firsthand the impact the stimulus awards are having on the people of the state.

"We are very grateful to have the opportunity to get the stimulus funds," says Paul Mina, President and CEO of United Way Tri County and executive director of Mass211. "It really improved our situation dramatically. Now we're moving into a long term relationship with EEC."

Lynne Pizette and Shawna Terkanian, both of whom were hired to respond to the child care calls, are thrilled with their stimulus-funded positions. Both women had been laid off from previous positions. Terkanian says she was looking for a job for a year. "When the stimulus money came through, it was the happiest day of my life," she says.

United Way of Tri County
As Gary Lever, vice president of Mass211 points out, the child care calls invariably lead to requests for other information, mainly because Pizette and Terkinan know to ask if there is anything else the caller might need help with. "We really help people in difficult situations," says Lever. "If they are behind in their utility bills, rent, and are really struggling we'll make a lot of other referrals for these childcare clients."

According to Lever, 87 percent of the people they followed up on said they got the help they needed.

For Mina, that's what it's all about. "To have people finally get a job but then they can't take it because of a lack of affordable childcare means they can't become self sufficient. It is forcing them back on public assistance."