People Helping People: Nonprofits benefit entire community during recession

The word "cut" dominates the news these days. Look in any newspaper and you are likely to see references to job cuts, spending cuts, or service cuts. With all the cutting going around, though, what is left for the average taxpayer?

Fortunately, Gwinnett's nonprofit community is on the forefront of helping consumers and local government alike. This year alone we will be bringing needed tax dollars and residential stability to Gwinnett County at no cost to taxpayers. That's one commitment worth noting as residents look forward to a year of decreased government assistance due to the economy.

In the housing field, the people of Gwinnett are served by a small group of housing assistance agencies that provide a range of services, including housing for homeless families, case management and counseling to help homeowning families prevent foreclosure and achieve long-term financial well-being. Among these agencies, The IMPACT! Group has been proud to be among the leaders in our community's fight against homelessness and foreclosures. Over the past year, we've been working hard to create new assistance opportunities that are now bearing tangible benefits for the entire county.

Consider this. Since January, The IMPACT! Group has provided more than 2,600 households in our community with homeowner, foreclosure, and homebuyer counseling and education assistance. Our counseling services, which are free, provide the community with a comprehensive resource to help residents successfully buy - and keep - their homes. Thanks to the work and intervention of our five housing counselors, more than 1,000 families have received foreclosure prevention assistance since January, a number limited only by the number of available staff that we can support.

Moreover, at any given time, IMPACT! provides 22 homeless families with children the skills and resources needed to become financially stable again.

Another significant nonprofit contribution to the community comes in the form of financial assistance. This may sound strange coming from a nonprofit agency, but thanks to the Northeast Georgia Down Payment Assistance Program, IMPACT! is helping to raise income for municipalities, Gwinnett County and professionals in the housing field. Through a partnership with Brand Bank and the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, The IMPACT!! Group is providing potential homeowners with pre-purchase education and counseling, allowing them to earn a one-time grant towards the down payment of their new home.

Since the program began in October 2008, the program has helped generate some $8,717,150 in new housing sales and some $94,600 in new property taxes as a result of the occupied homes. By the end of the program's first year, IMPACT! estimates that approximately $132,000 worth of new property taxes will be generated by this single program, all without raising existing tax rates on homeowners.

Finally, we are laying the foundations for Gwinnett residents' long-term success after the recession. The IMPACT! HomeOwnership Center is helping to prevent future homelessness by giving both potential and current homeowners the financial education they need to avoid the pitfalls of foreclosure and or home loss. Students at our center receive basic lessons on budgeting, financial planning, and saving that they can immediately apply outside the classroom.

In doing so, these families - who come from all income levels - are more likely to remain financially stable and avoid public assistance in the long run.

As a nonprofit housing agency, The IMPACT! Group is daily helping not just clients within our community, but also the community itself at a time of economic hardship. We are proud to have diverse professional and funding partners who make our work possible. We welcome you learning more about our organization and how you can get involved in our work - either as a client or a potential contributor/ Visit us online at www.theimpactgroup.org.

Tom Merkel is president and executive director of The IMPACT! Group.

People Helping People is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Need help or know someone that does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.