On the Road: NJ Discover at New Jersey State House Press Conference November 5th for “Need Help? 2-1-1” bY Calvin Schwartz November 17, 2015
As journalists for NJ Discover, both Tara-Jean Vitale and myself were invited to attend the press conference for the new (revamped) NJ 211.org website. For me, after six decades of Jersey living, it would be my first time inside our State House. And quite frankly, despite all my travels throughout our state, my fingers seemingly on all the right pulses of what’s happening here, I was classically clueless (like the old movie) on what the 211 help system was all about. As a good reporter, I read about it prior to Wednesday and was fascinated on several levels; why didn’t I know about this and certainly, if I didn’t know, my being a man of words, explorations and social media proclivities, then a significant number of other Jersey residents, many of whom should and could avail themselves of the numerous services offered, probably didn’t know about 2-1-1 either.
It would be a perfect day; we found a metered parking spot in front of the State House. The rotunda was magnificent, replete with historic paintings. I knew George Washington crossed the Delaware not too far from where we were which added to the sense of poignant history. Once inside the conference room, we met with Thomas Cosentino, MWW who invited us to attend. Tom briefed us on the speakers; Joe Geleta, Executive Director of NJ 2-1-1 Partnership; Captain Robert Little, Executive Officer State Office of Emergency Management at New Jersey State Police; Maria Nikolatos, Director Disaster Response Program and Arnold Valentin Jr, Assistant Program Director, Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton; and other representatives of government agencies.
It’s not the intent of this article to digest/recant the speaker’s comments. I’ll keep repeating myself though. Everyone reading this article really really (that’s two emphatic ‘really’!) needs to go to NJ211.org to learn about Dial 2-1-1 to grasp the depth and breadth of all they are doing for us here in New Jersey. I did comment at the end of the meeting, how amazed I was at all the services that are offered by 2-1-1 and that my gut feeling, since I never heard of it, that there probably were many Jerseyans who also do NOT know enough about 2-1-1. Tara-Jean and I volunteered to do all we can to spread the word. That’s what this is all about.
There was one particular speaker that riveted me; Manny Fountain. Manny is disabled (in a wheel chair) and was living in a motel room. He called 2-1-1. It was a year after Hurricane Sandy and he had nowhere to turn. 2-1-1 put him in touch with Catholic Charities. As Manny explained, the amount of effort they put forth “was astounding along with their drive and passion.” If not for 2-1-1, he would’ve never found a wheel chair accessible apartment. They created a “new family and support system…..I would’ve never seen my life like this……I’m in grad school now.” I was so enthralled with Manny’s eloquence, sensitivity and his resounding positivity, we’ve become Facebook friends; a first step in a continuing friendship. He is quite amazing.
Throughout the press conference, I heard, “We are helping people with specific needs.” As I explored the website, it all makes such perfect sense that I wanted to shout about 2-1-1- from the highest hill; that’s what I’m doing now; sitting on a hill, writing. After the press conference, I had the pleasure to talk with Gary Shaw, a Director from Cablevision, as they are so committed to the 2-1-1 effort, Thomas Mergola, Director of Operations, ‘Need Help 2-1-1’, Lori A. Price Abrams, Vice President, Government Relations, MWW, Captain Robert Little from the State Police, who was also so passionate about 2-1-1 and Jay Stack, President of IGM Creative Group. So much energy and commitment in the room; many of you know me; I didn’t want to leave. I needed to keep absorbing. Then the lights went out in the room. It was definitely time to leave but not before a few photo-ops in the rotunda.
This final paragraph is designed so folks can help spread the word about 2-1-1. As a matter of fact, here is what I try to include on all my Facebook posts (and social media); every little bit helps to spread (promulgate) the word. And it’s almost Thanksgiving and the holidays; so have a happy and keep giving.
On social media posts you can also include this:
“This part is a PSA message. Know anybody in New Jersey who needs almost any kind of help? Discover a remarkable group of people. Best to check website www.nj211.org or call 2-1-1”