March 2017 – Meeting Invite

In Shaping Clay meetings, we have discussed a number of issues related to the topic of resource directories. There are many organizations that have their own directory, each find it a challenge to maintain up-to-date contact information, and there can be a duplication of effort since multiple organizations work to both maintain their directories and get the word out about them.

We are actively looking for a better way. We wanted to find out what resources those who are at the front-line answering the phones rely on. What questions do they get? What information do they give out? Allie got the ball rolling right after our February meeting, by reaching out to Clay County to find out what information they provide to callers looking for assistance.

 Clay County Switchboard (904) 284-6376

I did a search for community resources or assistance on the Clay County website and there wasn’t much. I called the general information number and spoke with a switchboard operator. She shared that she did not know of any community resources and didn’t have any listed to share. She shared that she has been in her position for 3 years and people call all the time asking about food stamps or food assistance, housing assistance, or information about other needs. I asked her what she usually tells people who call asking for resource information and she shared that she gives them two different telephone numbers. She didn’t know what the numbers would link me to, she just shared that that those were the numbers someone had put on the switchboard with a note that said housing/food/clothing assistance. When I googled them, they turned out to be North Florida Community Action Agency and the Clay Behavioral.

I asked her who was in charge of determining the website content and she was unsure. She shared she knew that the MIS program updated and maintained the website. I asked her if it would be helpful for her to have a resource list or to have one posted on the Clay County website and she shared it would be. I would recommend that a representative from Mercy Support Services call and give the switchboard their number so that they have it to give out. I would also recommend that when we are creating our narrative that we include how the County website does not have any helpful information for residents in need.

Then Elaine and Karen picked up the challenge and made several more calls to those on the front-lines answering calls from people looking for assistance. We were surprised, and you may be too, at what we discovered.

Clay County Switchboard (904) 284-6376

Yes, here’s what I found out at a call to the mail Clay County number a month later, and not much has changed. When going to the Clay County website to find a number to call, there is lots of information, but no phone number until you go to the ‘contact us’ tab.  People call in this main switchboard number (904) 284-6376 for rental, food, and housing assistance. The numbers that they share with callers are for these organizations: Career Source (904) 213-3888, Food Bank (904) 284-5936, Food Pantry (904) 284-0814, Housing Authority, and Neighborhood Assistance Resource Center (904) 529-2233. The woman who answered the phone did not know much about the organizations she is referring people to. For example, why there are two food related numbers and she had not heard of Mercy Support Services. I told her that we were trying to get up-to-date information into the hands of those who like her are on the front line answering phones from people looking for social service support. She welcomed this and gave me her email to stay in touch.

I did not know what the Neighborhood Assistance Resource Center was so I called them. They are based in Green Cove Springs and have two staff members plus someone who comes in two days a week from another agency. They help people with many things such as food stamps, Medicaid, and vouchers for food pantry access. The woman that I spoke with welcomed receiving any updated information that we could share. When she gave me her email address, it became apparent that I was speaking with Clay Behavioral’s Green Cove Springs office.

Keystone Heights City Hall (352) 473-4807

I spoke to the Keystone Heights receptionist.  She says that she has a few numbers for local services–their senior center, etc.–but, generally, if calls come in for other things, she refers people to the main Clay County switchboard number.  She says even the senior center is run by the Council on Aging which is a County service.

 Green Cove Springs (904) 297-7500

Green Cove Springs has a very comprehensive website, including this directory which was posted Jan 2016.Green Cove Springs Business and Community Directory

The website does not provide guidance about where to call to find answers to social service questions. When you call the main number, no one answers the phone if your question cannot be handled by the automated selections. So I dug into the online staff directory, and again there was no obvious choice, so I called the Assistant to the Town Manager. Here’s what she shared.

Most of the calls they get are for housing (e.g. section 8) and these are sent to Flagler County who handles those needs for Clay County. The other most common request is for assistance in paying utility bills and they send these to the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency. They don’t have a list of service providers, rather she distributes brochures to some staff so that they can respond to requests for food pantry and mental health needs (Clay Behavioral}. She did not know about Mercy Support Services when I mentioned them. She gave me her email address so we could send her materials that may help them answer questions. She noted that while the county is based in Green Cove Springs, most of the requests for social service needs are fielded by the county government rather than the Green Cove Springs municipality.

Orange Park Main Number (904) 264-9565

I called Sarah, who was recommended as a point of contact at our last Shaping Clay meeting. She is the Town Clerk / Assistant Town Manager so she does not answer the main number. She said that they have a list of about 10 organizations that are on a handout that they give to people who walk in looking for assistance. This list is also used as reference by the person at the front desk when a call comes in. She’s going to have someone send me the list electronically. She too would welcome updated information.

It looks like we have some work to do in Clay County in terms of getting updated lists of social service organizations and agency descriptions to those who receive questions from those who need to access these services.  Also, is there a way to effectively share information centrally about upcoming events that may be of interest to community residents and businesses?