COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Identifying local, state, even national economic resources when faced with financial difficulties or unemployment can be a stressful, confusing, and overwhelming task. A new effort by Ohio State University Extension is saving Ohioans the energy by bringing those resources directly to them.
"5 County Solutions" is a collaboration among OSU Extension offices in Clinton, Highland, Greene, Fayette, and Montgomery counties that provides comprehensive local, state, and federal financial education, tools, programs, and other resources. The information is delivered primarily through a web site (http://5countysolutions.osu.edu) and social media, such as Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/5-County-Solutions/205783132240).
The effort materialized after DHL pulled out of Wilmington, Ohio, in 2008. The result left upwards of 10,000 Ohioans in the surrounding counties jobless or in financial hardship.
"Extension educators in the five counties got together and said, ‘What can we do to help families through this crisis?' These hard-working people were now unemployed and had no other jobs to turn to," said Susan Holladay, an OSU Extension educator in Clinton County.
The answer was a web site that delivered, directly to Ohioans, the financial services and tools they may not have been aware of or were unsure of even where to begin looking for assistance.
"The key was to use technology, rather than traditional information outlets, to deliver resources to residents to fit their schedules rather than the schedules of businesses," said Pat Brinkman, an OSU Extension educator in Fayette County. "We wanted to provide a tool that could be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
The 5 County Solutions web site offers a wealth of information including articles on coping with stress and job loss; identifying financial priorities and budgeting; county resources including family services, career centers, and food pantries; state and national resources; OSU Extension resources; small business resources; support groups; information on essentials such as food, shelter, and clothing; tax information; and tips on avoiding scams.
5 County Solutions launched in November 2008. By the end of 2009, nearly 3,000 visitors have perused the site. With unemployment rates in the five counties in double digits — some as high as 16 percent — and surrounding counties suffering no less, 5 County Solutions has gone beyond serving the needs of just those affected by DHL's exit.
"This web site is for anyone facing economic hardships and financial difficulties," said Brinkman. "It's a one-stop shop to being informed of tools, resources, and services that exist and a way of easily reaching them."
5 County Solutions web site will continue to expand with news, information, and resources, and will soon include a blog.
Other OSU Extension educators involved in the effort include Chris Olinsky (Montgomery County), Rose Fisher Merkowitz (Highland County), and Melanie Hart (Greene County).