VALDOSTA -- A local call center's destiny was altered Wednesday when a benevolent resident came to its aid.

Last week, 211 of South Central Georgia officials feared their doors would be closing due to limited funding and a lack of community support. That all changed Wednesday morning when a person bearing a $15,000 check entered the Leila Ellis School building, the call center's location. The individual asked to remain anonymous.

"I was sitting in a conference in Atlanta when I got the call," said Karen Costlow-Nolan, executive director of the South Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness, which oversees 211 of South Central Georgia. "I started crying. I had to leave the conference."

The call center gives individuals and families in 18 counties a means of locating appropriate community-based organizations and social service agencies during times of need. It began taking calls on June 16.

Costlow-Nolan said this person saw a lot of potential in 211 of South Central Georgia and its ability to transform lives. The individual promised another $35,000 donation in the near future, paid Costlow-Nolan her salary for the past six months, and guaranteed her a regular paycheck.

"This is the most wonderful thing," Costlow-Nolan continued. "I cannot believe it. It's one of those things that makes you go 'Oh my gosh. How can this be?' This is incredible and is good news for the community."

Another boost for 211 of South Central Georgia came from the Lowndes County Commissioners, who lowered the program's monthly maintenance fees from $1,180 per month to less than $400. This money is used to pay for electricity and cleaning.

Costlow-Nolan said all of this will ensure the continuation of 211 of South Central Georgia through the summer of 2004. Afterward, the program will be in a better position financially as funds from a Housing and Urban Development Grant will kick in and United Way donations will begin to arrive.

And it could not have happen at a better time.

"We are getting close to the holidays," Costlow-Nolan said earlier. "That's a time when we see an increased need and demand for service. People are going to be cold and hungry, and we want to be here to help them."

She said any future donations sent in by area donors will go directly toward meeting the needs of callers.

The first 211 was established on May 6, 1997, by the Georgia Public Service Commission. A universally recognizable information and referral number, 211 is a link between people in need of health and human services and the appropriate providers of such services. The call center of 211 of South Central Georgia is designed to assist and empower individuals in assessing their situation and providing information on available resources through the use of a comprehensive database and the Internet.

The services of 211 are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Valdosta-based center serves residents of Echols, Lowndes, Pierce, Cook, Ware, Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Irwin, Lanier, Tift, and Turner counties.

Volunteers are still needed to answer phones during the day. To volunteer, learn more, or make a donation, please call 245-8064.



To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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