Group to help families avoid foreclosure

DULUTH - When President Bush declared June National Homeownership Month, it was intended to be a time to celebrate the benefits of purchasing a home.

With foreclosure rates on the rise in Gwinnett County, one local nonprofit agency is making it a time to ensure struggling families keep their homes.

The Impact Group, which has centers in Duluth and Norcross, holds classes throughout the year aimed at helping families understand how to avoid foreclosure.

Foreclosures have been increasing quickly in the county in recent years. The county has seen 3,648 foreclosures through the first six months of this year, according to statistics from EquityDepot. That's a 127 percent increase from the same period in 2002.

"There's really a need for these classes right now," said Mary Thomason, resource development manager at The Impact Group. "Foreclosures are a major problem in Gwinnett County right now."

The Impact Group stressed the importance of people who are in danger of foreclosure seeking help as soon as possible. The agency cites a study that shows homeowners who are one or two payments behind are more likely to keep their homes than those who have fallen further behind on their payment schedule.

"During National Homeownership Month and throughout the year, we must do all we can to ensure homeownership is not built on quicksand," said Marina Peed, executive director of The Impact Group. "The earlier financially distressed homeowners reach out for assistance, the more options they have to address their mortgage issues and potentially avoid foreclosure."

Despite The Impact Group providing 4,759 people with education and counseling services in 2006, Thomason said she thinks there are many people who don't know their services are offered (and are free).

"I think a lot of people are not aware help's available," Thomason said.

In addition to classes and counseling sessions, The Impact Group also offers an emergency shelter and supportive transitional housing through its resource center in Norcross, and mortgage and down payment help through its financial arm, Neighborhood Financial Services Inc.

at a glance

•What: The Impact Group's Home Investment Academy

•Where: The Impact HomeOwnership Center, 2825 Breckinridge Blvd., Suite 160, Duluth

•July Classes:

• "Realizing the American Dream" Homebuyer Workshop (two-part class), July 11 and July 18, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

• "Realizing the American Dream" Homebuyer Workshop, July 21, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• "Keeping Your Home Through Challenging Times", July 28, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• "Get Fiscally Fit" Financial Management Class, July 28, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

•Cost: Free

•For more information visit: www.theimpactgroup.org