Knox County's information and referral service, Just Ask 211, is a solid

standard for other communities nationwide, according to the group that

accredits such agencies.

"The Knox County effort is a national model of how to start an Information

and Referral service," said Peter Aberg, executive director of the Alliance

of Information and Referral Systems. " The startup team did extensive

research to find out the best ways to set up and operate a top-quality

service."

Throughout the county, Just Ask 211 is the main source for information on

social service resources and non-emergency assistance. The only other areas

that have the three-digit I&R number are Alabama, Connecticut, North

Carolina and Atlanta.

"If you can't find the service you need, you can't get help - that's why

we're so pleased to help launch this important community resource," said

Tony Spezia, chief operating officer of Covenant Health. "We're confident

that calling 211 for information and referral will soon be as automatic as

calling 411 for directory assistance."

Initial funding for Just Ask 211 has been provided by Covenant Health and

United Way of Greater Knoxville. Support for the service includes health

care, law enforcement, social service agencies, and emergency services in

Knox County. Reducing the number of mistaken calls received by agencies,

Just Ask 211's purpose is to help people find the services they need.

Currently, Just Ask 211 operates 12 hours a day, seven days a week. For the

future, the service plans to expand to operations of 24 hours a day.

"Our research in the Knoxville area found that we have a wealth of

services, but people often don't know how to reach them," said Jan

Collinson, executive director of Just Ask 211. Collinson is the former

executive director of Contact of Blount County and assisted the

establishment of an I&R service for the United Way of Blount County. "A lot

of people give up before they can find the help they need. I'm excited to

be coming in on the ground floor of something like this, which fills such

an important need."

With a database of more than 500 programs and services, Just Ask 211, also

helps community volunteers and donors connect with groups that need their

assistance.

"Our goal is to have as much current information about as many services as

possible," Collinson said. "We are continually updating our information and

adding new services to the database so that we can give callers the best

possible information."

The board of Just Ask 211 was established in the spring of 1999 and

includes members from each of the area's hospitals as well as the Knoxville

Police Department, Knox County's Sheriff's Department, E-911, the city and

county governments, Bell South, Knoxville Utilities Board, the Knoxville

Fire Department, First Tennessee Bank-Knoxville, several private businesses

and local churches.