Nonprofit working to prevent foreclosures in 2007

DULUTH - With the number of foreclosures rising in Gwinnett County each month, a local agency is joining a national campaign and starting a program the group hopes will prevent or decrease the amount of home foreclosures in the county.

Mary Thomason, marketing and communications coordinator for the IMPACT! Group, said the nonprofit group is joining a nationwide effort through the NeighborWorks Center for Foreclosure Solutions (an IMPACT! partner) and the Homeownership Preservation Foundation to prevent homeowners from losing their homes due to financial instability.

Thomason said IMPACT!, a company established to address community concerns regarding the availability of quality, affordable housing in Gwinnett County, is working to rid the county of preventable and unnecessary foreclosures.

The foreclosure rate in Gwinnett County has grown rapidly over the years with more than 2,000 Gwinnett households who have foreclosed in just the last month.

Thomason said she and her colleagues are expecting a surge in foreclosures in the county in the upcoming year, and said they are working to officially launch the campaign in January.

"People shouldn't wait until they have a problem," said Anthony T. Mitchell, IMPACT! neighborhood financial services director. "If they call us when they're struggling, we can help."

As part of the campaign those in Georgia, including Gwinnett County, can call the NeighborWorks toll-free help number and receive mortgage payment assistance and home investment and payment counseling.

"Ideally we could completely prevent foreclosure with the help and counseling we provide," said Marci Davis, marketing and resource development director for the group.

Gwinnett residents in need of help can call the national help hotline at 1-888-995-HOPE or visit their Web site at www.995hope.org. The IMPACT! Group, located in Duluth at 2825 Breckinridge Blvd., Suite 160, can be reached by calling 678-808-4477 or visiting their Web site at www.theimpactgroup.org.

Thomason said the help line assistance is available and operators are accepting calls and providing assistance.

"This line is open 24 hours a day seven days a week," said Thomason. "Anyone in need of assistance can call and they will be referred to IMPACT! or someone in their area who can help them."

Although Thomason said one of their main goals for 2007 is the foreclosure prevention campaign, she said IMPACT! will also continue the efforts they have been working for for nearly 14 years: helping Gwinnett residents prevent homelessness, assisting first-time home buyers throughout the county with downpayments and providing home investment and housing counseling.

"We've helped 21 families this year who were homeless. They went through our training program and became homeowners," Davis said.

Additionally, the nonprofit offers temporary housing, including an emergency shelter program and transitional housing opportunities for those who are employed, drug-free and have children younger than 18 years old.

Davis assures that all of the services provided by the group are confidential.

"People don't have to know you're walking through our doors and asking for help," Davis said. "People often don't seek help when they're in trouble because they're embarrassed. (Homelessness and foreclosure) can be avoided if you seek help."