Staff Photo: Tyler Estep Ginger Jones (center) speaks during a press conference Monday at Snellville's Parkwood Farms. The farm, which serves as a therapy center for autistic children, recently received an eviction notice but is fighting the case. Parkwood Farms founder and CEO Dr. Marilyn Peterson (left) and volunteer Jill Davis (right) join Jones, who is the chief volunteer at the center.
SNELLVILLE -- As things stand, there are no longer any horses at Parkwood Farms.
The disabled children -- many on the extreme end of the autism spectrum -- that those horses help have nowhere to go. Chris cannot go to therapy. Neither can Mia or Linda or any others of the 40 or so students that visit the Snellville center.
The track is empty. The property, normally abuzz with activity, is quiet.
Served an eviction notice last week, Parkwood Farms is being foreclosed upon. Wrongfully so, its founder said.
"I'll fight to the end," Dr. Marilyn Peterson said Monday, flanked by coworkers, volunteers, students and the entire Snellville city council. "The thing that people have to understand is I really haven't done anything wrong. They were the ones that broke the laws and are trying to take the property away wrongfully."
"They," in this case, are HSBC Bank. Peterson, who founded Parkwood Farms in 2002, said she's been the victim of a predatory loan and has been fighting foreclosure since February 2011.
According to Peterson, her mortgage was converted to an adjustable rate mortgage unexpectedly and sold to HSBC.The mortgage rate doubled, and when Peterson tried to modify, she said she was told to miss a few payments so the farm could "qualify for some programs."
The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office served an eviction notice on Wednesday. With a pending case in federal court, Peterson said she will not go quietly.
An online petition supporting the farm had almost 1,800 electronic signatures early Monday evening. It can be found by searching "Parkwood Farms" on start2.occupyourhomes.org.
Occupy Atlanta's Tim Franzen helped organize a press conference Monday, bringing together several of the therapy center's volunteers and student families.
"I really don't care what the law says," Franzen said, "the fact is we've got an amazing program that is willing to pay, that has money, that has really been dual-tracked by a bank."
If the foreclosure and subsequent eviction are allowed to go through, those with ties to the farm said the real victims will be the children who learn and receive therapy there by riding and otherwise caring for horses.
The farm is dedicated to non-traditional therapy for disabled students, many of which are severely autistic and would be denied participation elsewhere.
Several parents and volunteers spoke at Monday's press conference.
Said Renn McClintick-Doyle, whose son Chris has ridden at Parkwood Farms for nine years: "He has made an amazing change in his life ... This was the only camp that would take him."
Said Rebecca Valdez, whose daughter Linda has visited the farm for four years: "This place has been a blessing in our lives. It's a huge part of our lives ... She still has a ways to go, but she's more patient, she has more self-control, she's got more self-confidence (since starting therapy at Parkwood). She's just a different kid."
Said Jill Davis, a volunteer session leader: "We need to be clear -- they're not messing with just a farm, just a therapy center. They're messing with a community."
It's unclear what the near future holds for Parkwood Farms, though Peterson said she hopes legal documents postponing any eviction until her federal case is resolved will be coming soon.
A spokesman for the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office could not be reached for comment Monday. Government offices were closed in observance of Veteran's Day.
Peterson said that Parkwood Farms, like most other nonprofits, is far from rolling in money but was managing fine and could have paid its mortgage if it wasn't advised otherwise. A chiropractor by trade, Peterson does not collect a salary and does not "charge" the organization full rent.
Mayor Kelly Kautz and the entire Snellville City Council made an appearance Monday at the property, which is not technically in city limits.
"Dr. Peterson and Parkwood Farms fill a need in our community," Kautz said. "They are the essence of what our city stands for ... To be honest, I don't know what we as a government can do for Parkwood Faarms. But as leaders in our community, we have an obligation to stand up for what is right."