BY JIM LOCKWOOD
A new, online platform aims to better connect the needy with free or low-cost social services in Lackawanna County.
The Scranton Area Community Foundation on Tuesday announced the creation of Neighborly, a free, open-access, searchable website for social service organizations and individuals.
Started with a $650,000 contribution from Geisinger Health System, the site aims to make finding local resources easier, said Brian Ebersole, senior director of Geisinger’s Springboard Health program.
Neighborly was unveiled during an event at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center with a demonstration explaining the platform’s functions.
“Neighborly is really the opportunity for us to put forth an easy-to-use platform that is readily available to all of our social service organizations, but also more importantly it’s available to the general public,” Ebersole said. “It’s a platform to connect with free and reduced-cost services that are available in the community.”
Constructed by a firm called Aunt Bertha of Austin, Texas, the online platform contains information on available social services, as well as an interface to refine searches with filters and track and follow up on searches, said Trudie Bruno of Aunt Bertha.
Rather than searching websites of individual agencies, users of Neighborly will find a one-stop resource for information on available services in any zip code. Users can readily find details, including income eligibility guidelines for services and locations of and directions to agencies. They can keep their own internal notes within the platform for future reference.
For example, a library employee could use the platform to help connect a patron to local resources, including food or legal assistance or health care services, Ebersole said. Or, an employee of a social service agency already helping someone with food assistance may learn of a client’s need for something else and use Neighborly to better help connect that person with other organizations that can help.
The platform will be an evolving work in progress as agencies and people use Neighborly, Ebersole said.
The foundation also will provide support for community engagement, referral tracking and information sharing through the platform.
Michael Hanley, the retired, former longtime CEO of United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and who now works with the United Way on a special project regarding senior isolation, attended the unveiling of Neighborly. Creation of such a platform had been discussed for years within the social services community and Neighborly appears to be a “very comprehensive and user-friendly” system that holds great promise, he said.
“It sounds like a great resource to the community to be able to connect, to have the ability to pull up services basically at your desktop, but also to be able to track people as they go through the system,” Hanley said. “I think it’s really long overdue in the community, something this comprehensive.”
In a statement, Scranton Area Community Foundation President and CEO Laura Ducceschi said, “Following an extended period of deep conversations with community stakeholders, government agencies and our neighbors, we are excited to see Neighborly introduced as a new resource for those seeking services or those helping others to seek services in the region,”
As it’s built out, the platform also will need members of the social services community to use and refine the system and ensure their data is current and accurate, Hanley added.
Organizers also are working on creating a similar Neighborly platform for Luzerne County, Ebersole said.
To access Neighborly, visit NeighborlyPA.com.
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