Get Help


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Each state in the United States has a resource number that offers free referrals for almost every situation or problem. The number to call is 211. If you’re on the verge of — or actually doing harm — to yourself or someone else, call 911. If someone is threatening or harming you or your children (or you if you’re a child) — call 911. If the problem is less threatening or less imminent, use 211 instead. Funded by the United Way, 211 offers resources for local help for problems for everything from lack of money or shelter to marriage counseling and domestic abuse. Some states even have nonprofit organizations that help people cover funeral expenses. The only thing worse than losing someone you love to death is not having enough money to pay for your loved one’s funeral.

Most of us need help some time. If you need assistance, put aside your pride and ask for what you need. Somehow, some way, it will come, and someday you’ll be on the other side offering help to someone in need.

A Few Tips to Help You

If you’re looking for assistance with a problem, here are some steps to make it easier.

First, set aside your pride. Feel any feelings you have, then let them go.

Be clear about what you need. Write out what kind of help you’re looking for if you know.

Be prepared to provide documents and identification. Yes, it’s a hassle but it’s part of the process. Gather together items like your driver’s license, proof of where you live by providing copies of house or rent payments or utility bills.

Stay organized. Keep all documents in a folder. Take the time to make copies of all correspondence and documents you send and receive, including E-mails.

If you have questions, write them down so you don’t forget them. Also write down the answers. If your partner or spouse has questions, find out what they are and write those down too.

Be prepared to document at least a five-year history of addresses, phone numbers, proof of income, and copies of tax returns.

If the problem isn’t financial, write down other details of the problem before you get on the phone. Be clear, specific, and to the point.

Be polite. You may have to jump through hoops to get the help you’re seeking. Humbling ourselves may trigger angry, embarrassed, or guilty feelings. This problem most likely isn’t part of the dreams you had for your life. Don’t take out your feelings on the person you’re talking to on the phone. Politeness can go a long way. Remember, people answering phones are human. They have feelings too. You want them on your side. So don’t behave in ways that alienate them. Be nice.

Keep a record of phone numbers, names, and conversations, for instance the name of the person you talked to and what that person told you to do or said he or she would do for you. Paper trails are good. It’s better to have the information and not need it, than to need the information and not have it. Also, if you have to go back to the person or someone else in the organization, you’ll give a good impression by keeping detailed records of interactions and transactions and you may save yourself from having to start from scratch again.

You may need to learn how to be the squeaky wheel. If you’re dealing with a busy organization, you may need to call back often, possibly daily. Don’t interpret the lack of response from a busy organization as a personal affront. But also be prepared to stand up for yourself. You can be assertive without being aggressive. You can be firm, yet diplomatic.

Try to understand the other person’s position, where they’re coming from, and any regulations governing what people can and can’t do, or what that person needs from you. Get the person on your side. Make the people you’re dealing with allies and friends.

Hold up your end of the bargain. If you’re asked to do certain things, keep appointments, provide paperwork or information — do it timely. You’re not being rescued. You’re asking for help so you can take care of yourself or help someone you love.

Check out groups or websites and find out what people are saying about various resources — which ones are good, which are better, and what to expect.

Ask, ask, ask. If the person you’re talking to can’t help you, ask if he or she knows who can. Then ask for the number or way to contact them.

After you’ve received help, a thank-you call or note is appropriate, even if you’re dealing with a corporation or government organization. If someone went out of his or her way to be helpful or was especially efficient, a complimentary call to that person’s supervisor is a kind gesture. If people helped you, it’s something you can do to show your appreciation and possibly help them. Be as quick to compliment as you are to complain.