A Lowcountry life preserver for those drowning in debt
Carolyn and James Blake came close to losing their home. It was a stinging threat that was piled among the other troubles that sprouted when he lost his job.
Who: Family Services Inc.
Where: 925 Lacross Road, Suite 205, North Charleston, SC 29406
Foreclosure help: For more information on foreclosure prevention programs, call the Consumer Hotline at 735-5522.
Other help: The nonprofit also offers other programs, such as debt management and bankruptcy counseling. Call 735-7802 for information.
The overwhelming problem was lightened by a Lowcountry organization that has helped more than 13,000 people and saved more than 3,800 homes from foreclosure since 2008.
Family Services, a local nonprofit group, provides foreclosure-prevention counseling and assistance. It is provided grant funding by Neighbor Works, a national nonprofit organization funded by Congress.
Neighbor Works recently submitted a report to national lawmakers on its progress, which includes help for 1.5 million homeowners nationwide.
The Blakes had to dig out of a hole that started for them when James lost a job he had held for 28 years. “You can’t sleep. Sometimes you can’t eat,” Carolyn Blake said about the feeling of being inundated by piling bills and debt.
When the Charleston furniture store James Blake worked for went out of business in 2009, it left the Blakes relying on his unemployment check and Carolyn’s salary as a dialysis technician. They refinanced the Johns Island home that they have lived in since 1986 at a 14 percent interest rate.
“It was to the point we couldn’t make our house payment,” she said.
A friend from Carolyn’s church was going through her own financial troubles and suggested Family Services, which also had been assisting her.
“It was very hard for us to reach out and get the help because we were so used to paying our bills on time,” Carolyn Blake said.
Setting pride aside, the Blakes entered Family Services’ modification program, which works with lenders in getting more affordable payments with a lower interest rate, in hopes of preventing foreclosure.
It’s one of several programs the organization offers, which are all free, including first-time homebuyer education, credit counseling and financial literacy through the Homeownership Resource Center. It has served nearly 55,000 people in the past seven years. Family Services is based in North Charleston.
“It’s an amazing feat, and we hope to reach and assist thousands more in 2013,” said Jenna Johnson, the marketing and development director for Family Services.
It’s been about two years since the Blakes entered the program, and while they are not entirely out of the woods yet, they are seeing light peek through the canopy of doubt that once hovered over them.
“You just can’t give up. There’s always hope,” Carolyn Blake said.
Blake said the program has taught them how to budget correctly, and they are continuing to chip away at their debt, in hopes of owning financial freedom.
“It will be a good feeling to know were not in bondage,” she said.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.