Feeling the pressure of holiday season already? We can help

This time of year always feels like it is moving in fast forward. Even the most organized and energetic among us will confess to feeling frazzled as we plan for any combination of events: Halloween, elections, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's.

While the celebrations of the season are intended to help us focus on gratitude, love, renewal and community, the pressure to super-size these events makes this season more stressful than peaceful. Not to mention the year-end spend-a-thon that most of us run into. While it may help the state's economy, it sure can wreak havoc on our own personal economy.

Many Gwinnett families are already stretched to their limit with real financial pressures because of rising costs in their mortgage rates, health care, child care, energy costs and transportation costs. Wages, particularly in the service sector, are not keeping pace with the cost of living. And of course, if you are between jobs, the pressure is intensified.

As a not-for-profit community housing organization, we at The IMPACT! Group are asked questions from homeowners who live in neighborhoods across Gwinnett and neighboring counties:

"My monthly payments for the mortgage and home equity loan just went through the roof and we can't afford to pay them both. What can we do?"

"I just got laid off from work, so now we've lost our health insurance and our primary paycheck. What can we do to keep our home?"

"We're getting a divorce, and he always took care of the bills and I took care of the kids. He didn't pay the mortgage last month, and now I don't know what to do. What are my options?"

"My kids and I are sleeping in our car because we can't afford to stay in the hotel anymore and pay for my son's medicine. I want a better life for my family. Can you help us?"

Some of these inquiries are handled through The IMPACT! Home Ownership Center in Duluth where certified housing counselors objectively assess the situation and suggest options through budget strategies and financing options. The families who are at risk of becoming homeless or who are already homeless turn to The IMPACT! Resource Center in Norcross. The Resource Center manages a Supportive Transitional Housing program for 12 families at a time in various Gwinnett locations. Next year, with partial funding from a federal grant, the program will be expanded to include 10 more housing units.

While the issues can seem overwhelming, there are many things you can do to make a difference that won't take a big bite out of your wallet:

1. Tell friends and co-workers about the free and confidential services The IMPACT! Group provides to homeowners who are managing through difficult times - you never know who might find the information useful.

2. Express gratitude for the little things - your kind words may be just the boost that makes another's day worthwhile.

3. Be generous to those service providers who rely on tips to make ends meet - that extra dollar means a lot more than you know.

4. Adopt a family in our programs for the holidays - it's a great way for a company or family to experience the joy of making another's holidays wonderful.

5. Be part of The IMPACT! Group's Home for the Holidays program to provide services to families during this holiday season.

'Tis the season for gratitude, love, renewal and community. Love isn't measured by how much you spend.

For help determining your mortgage options, call 1-888-995-HOPE at any time of day or night. If you want to meet in person, call IMPACT! HomeOwnership Center at 678-808-4477.

If you would like to adopt a family for the holidays, please call IMPACT! Resource Center at 678-291-0305 or check out our Web site at www.theimpactgroup.org.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Marina Sampanes Peed of The IMPACT! Group.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.