Palo Alto puts social services info in easy reach

Palo Alto, Calif. unveiled a new World Wide Web site earlier this month designed to make it easier for residents to find information about human services available in and around the city.

The Web site is part of Family Resources, a multifaceted program created by Palo Alto's Office of Human Services to improve the availability and quality of information about the city's resources.

In addition to the Web site, the Family Resources program aims to train "ambassadors" to help foster awareness about the services. The goal is to identify people who can serve as a source of information to people in their own neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and places of worship. The city also is setting up a site in a local community center where people can go to find information and to meet with resource specialists.

But the Web site is the "foundation piece," said Sharon Murphy, Family Resources coordinator in the Office of Human Services. "It is the only [resource] capable of housing all the information and growing indefinitely."

The site groups services into eight categories: emergency/crisis, basic needs, child care, community resources, disability resources, education, health care and mental health, and counseling. Each link leads to a list of services where people can find contact information and a description of services.

The site also includes names and pictures of key personnel in each area, along with voice or text messages from those individuals. Seeing those pictures, "people can have a sense of, 'I know that person,'" Murphy said. "Hopefully, that will improve their comfort level with stepping up and using those services."

But Palo Alto recognizes that not everyone has access to a computer. The city recently installed its first Community Internet Access Site, at an area preschool, where people can tap into the database. Program officials hope to install one or two each year around the region.

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