CAIRS History: 1979 - 2015

The California Alliance of Information & Referral Services (CAIRS), was started at the 1979 Alliance for Information & Referral Systems (AIRS) Conference. Citing a need for representation at the state level, California conference attendees met on the steps of the hotel to discuss how to create what is now known as CAIRS.

Founding Board members included:

  • Mary Dean, Santa Clara County Senior I&R
  • Sidney Pucek, United Way of the Bay Area
  • John Jewell, Fresno County Library
  • Carol Williams Bryant, California State Library, Sacramento
  • Terry Crowley, San Jose State Professor of Library Science
  • Linda Lewis, InfoLine LA
  • Wayne Lindley, California Department of Aging
  • Mary Strohl, River City Information Center, Sacramento
  • Grace Slocum, Volunteer Center of Greater Riverside

They met to develop this fledgling organization. It was determined that training was the key element CAIRS could offer to information and referral organizations throughout the state, to improve the quality of service to the public.

The membership consisted of representatives from generic and specialized I & R’s, i.e., children services, senior services, military services, homeless services, library services, disabilities, etc. Initially, Board members were primarily program managers and administrators. As the organization evolved, line staff joined the board, lending a new perspective to the organization.

As the organization began to grow, the Board recognized the need for committees to address specific needs: Public Relations, Advocacy, Membership, Education & Training, and the conference committee were formed. Board members serve on two committees and the conference committee.

The AIRS/INFO LINE Taxonomy is born. In 1978-79, the state of California developed a uniform classification system for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). CAIRS, recognizing the need for a common language among all providers of information and referral, took on the project of modifying the DHHS taxonomy for I & R providers. This proved to be more difficult than creating a new taxonomy. INFO LINE of LA, recognizing the value of what CAIRS was attempting to do, volunteered to develop the new taxonomy. Georgia Sales, INFO LINE of LA, is the author of what has become known as the INFO LINE Taxonomy of Human Services. After many years of development it has become the accepted taxonomy nationwide and is promoted through AIRS.

The first CAIRS conference was held in 1980 at Asilomar, a retreat in Pacific Grove on the Pacific. In 1984, at the AIRS conference, Frances Fox Pixen, keynote speaker, addressed the need for people to register and vote. During this time there was the threat of many budget cuts at the state level. CAIRS actively promoted voter registration and exercising the right to vote as a means for people to educate their legislators of their concerns about the pending cuts. CAIRS scheduled board meetings in Sacramento in order to meet with legislators and advocate for continued funding for programs providing needed I & R services to the communities.

CAIRS was incorporated in August 19, 1982, and obtained non-profit status in September 1984.

In 1984 CAIRS hosted its first AIRS conference at Asilomar. Mother Nature entertained the conference guests with a surprise – an earthquake! The first CAIRS newsletter was created for this conference. It evolved into a quarterly publication mailed to the entire CAIRS membership. This useful tool aids the Board in sharing what they learn by disseminating new information regarding legislation, funding sources, conferences, Board activities, etc.

CAIRS was active in creating CA legislation for I&R. The CAIRS Advocacy Committee participated on key coordinating committees in Sacramento related to I & R issues; had a liaison with the State Office of Libraries; and was active on the California Legislative Joint Select Task Force on Changing The Family in the development of AB3284, The Caregivers Information & Referral Act. This Act aided in developing a consistent system of information, statewide, for dependent adults and their families.

CAIRS worked with AIRS, NASUA and N4A to secure funds to develop national training materials for I&R providers. CAIRS presented at the Field Forum on the Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, in San Francisco, commending the Administration on Aging for allocating $600,000 of discretionary funds to develop national training materials for Senior I&R providers. CAIRS worked closely with AIRS, the National Association of State Units on Aging and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in their joint proposal for these discretionary funds. CAIRS also worked at the state level on the reauthorization of the Older Californians Act. This kept Senior I&R as a visibly integrated and monitored service for older adults and their families.

In the aftermath of the Loma Prieta (San Francisco) earthquake in 1989, CAIRS together with other postdisaster human service providers, saw a great need to provide training to enable people to access needed services in a disaster. CAIRS developed an excellent disaster training model and made this training available to all interested agencies throughout the state. This plan proved invaluable during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, as INFO LINE of LA and other local I & R programs were called into action.

In the late 80’s, CAIRS also saw the need for a statewide directory of the primary access points for information and referral within each county, throughout the state of California. The Key Access Directory was born.

CAIRS helped start the Community Pages in telephone books. In the early 1990’s, CAIRS participated in a project of the Berkeley School of Public Health and the Pacific Bell Smart Yellow Pages to compile a Wellness Guide, which included useful information on a variety of health and wellness related topics. The Guide referred people to the Community Pages of the Pacific Bell Telephone Directory where they would find the resources to meet their needs. The Community Pages were compiled and indexed by a committee of CAIRS.

The early 2000’s were a time of big changes and accomplishments for CAIRS.

  • CAIRS expanded I&R/A training opportunities from one two-day annual conference to two identical regional training conferences focusing on line staff and one one-day annual conference targeting management. This was in response to the need to make trainings cost effective for our members by decreasing travel time and expenses.
  • 2-1-1, first discussed in CA by CAIRS in 1998, became a mission of CAIRS. In 2001, CAIRS led two statewide 2-1-1 planning meetings, one in No. CA and one in So. CA, to give key stakeholders input in the 2-1-1 planning process. It was decided that AIRS accreditation would not be a requirement of CA 2-1-1 service providers although it would be a goal.
  • CAIRS formed the 2-1-1 Committee and secured funds in the amount of $537,000 through The California Endowment which, along with financial and in-kind donations from CAIRS member agencies, funded 2-1-1 planning activities from 2001 – 2003 including CAIRS first staff members Burt Wallrich, 2-1-1 California Statewide Coordinator and Lynn Pesely, 2-1-1 Coordinator Northern California. Extensive work to bring 2-1-1 to CA was accomplished by the CAIRS 2-1-1 Committee, led by CAIRS Board President Sharon DeCray. A Statewide 2-1-1 Steering Committee was formed to represent the diverse populations and geography of our state. The Committee was formed to create 2-1-1 policy while CAIRS created the standards for 2-1-1 in CA.
  • Dan Williams, AIRS 2-1-1 Coordinator presented at the Annual CAIRS Conference in 2002. Lori Warrens, AIRS Executive Director and Dan Williams, came to San Francisco in 2002 to meet with the CPUC Commissioners along with CAIRS representatives.
  • CAIRS and the Statewide 2-1-1 Steering Committee petitioned the CPUC to set standards for 2- 1-1 implementation in CA. February 2003, the CPUC adopted the standards for 2-1-1 implementation as presented by CAIRS and the Statewide 2-1-1 Steering Committee. CAIRS acknowledges Andrew Ulmer of Simpson and Partners for his valuable legal assistance that has guided CAIRS to bring 2-1-1 implementation to where it is today.
  • CAIRS created a 2-1-1 service mark for California and created 2-1-1 outreach materials.
  • A new Associate level of membership was introduced, in addition to the existing Agency and Individual membership levels. □ CAIRS taught 2-1-1 workshops at all CAIRS conferences and lead regional and local 2-1-1 planning efforts. CAIRS taught and participated in AIRS 2-1-1 intensives and workshops. CAIRS kept all interested parties appraised of 2-1-1 progress through the CAIRS 2-1-1 Action Update e:mail newsletter. CAIRS started the 2-1-1 Combined, 2-1-1 Northern CA Implementers and 2-1-1 So. CA Collaborative listserves.
  • Thanks to efforts by Elaine Martinez-Curry, CAIRS started getting sponsors for conferences in 2003 including Strategies, which brought in additional income for CAIRS and created a strong partnership with Family Resource Centers throughout the state which became CAIRS members.
  • CAIRS broadened workshops offered beyond basic I&R including _____and increased the professional level of presenters by securing presenters from AIRS for the Accreditation workshop and NASUA for I&A workshops.
  • As of August 2004, eight counties were authorized by the CPUC to utilize the 2-1-1 dialing code: Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco and Ventura. The authorized agencies include: INFO LINE of Los Angeles, Eden I&R, Contra Costa Crisis Center, Info Link Orange County, Northern CA Council for the Community – HELPLINK, Interface Children and Family Services of Ventura County, Volunteer Center of Riverside County and INFO LINE of San Diego County.
  • In 2004, as a result of a $50,000 grant from United Way of America, CAIRS formed a partnership with United Ways of California to jointly work towards bringing 2-1-1 to the state.
  • Extensive work was done by CAIRS and United Way to move the Federal Calling for 2-1-1 Act legislation (HR3111 and S1630) to passage since it would make $200 million dollars available annually to implement and sustain 2-1-1 across the nation.
  • Under the leadership of Maribel Marin, CAIRS Board President, CAIRS sponsored AB 2283 which would designate a lead entity for 2-1-1 in CA and create a mechanism to distribute funds.

CAIRS continues to grow and develop as it strives to increase access to services for Californians. Much has been accomplished without paid staff as all CAIRS board members are volunteers.

Networking and a sense of fun exists among the Board and is encouraged within the membership. Recreation and socialization is an integral part of the annual state conference as a means for the members to become acquainted with one another, develop relationships and create a community of support with the common interest of serving others in their work.

The CAIRS Board is composed of high energy, dedicated professionals, who care about the best quality access to services possible for the residents of California. There is much work to be done and a continued need for dedicated people to serve on the board now, and in the years to come. Join the board and make a difference!