WILLIAMSPORT – From July 7 to September 11, citizens of Lycoming County can go to the Pennsylvania Help Desk for financial and legal help. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 6 p.m., area experts from local banks and legal offices will volunteer their services to help those affected by the economic downturn.
The program is a result of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s request to have all governors and first lades to join them in a service intiative designed to help our fellow citizens in need, according to Governor Rendell.
The local office for Muncy, Hughesville and Montgomery residents is located at the Lycoming Law Association’s office, Suite 601 at Penn Tower on 25 West Third Street in downtown Williamsport.
“We thought this would be a nice location because there is always a staff person there, ” said Attorney Jonathan Butterfield who is president of the Lycoming County Law Association. Butterfield explained that local attorneys, mortgage professionals and bankers were contacted to volunteer to help those in economic distress to help resolve their situations. Governor Rendell’s office contacted the Local Bar Associations and Departments of Banking organizations throughout the Commonwealth in a collaborative effort to see who would be available to donate their time to such a valuable cause.
Counties were divided up into zones and zone governors were elected to represent geographic areas. Charles Greevy is Lycoming County’s local zone governor,” adds Butterfield.
Ed Novak, bank co-ordinator from Harrisburg put together a list of resources for local citizens to use. For example if someone needed help with debt, referrals can be made to local debt counseling services. Local resources are given after the volunteers who are knowledgeable in the areas of finance, credit and/or bankruptcy listen to the problems and help citizens to resolve their problems by making the proper referral to the proper agencies. The book has been a real help said Suzette Meyer, a senior IT officer at Woodlands Bank who volunteered her time at the Self Help Desk last Thursday afternoon. “We are here to give appropriate referrals, but not give advice,” she explained. “I think this is such a worthwhile cause to support the county. Today I had a client who was financially struggling to meet monthly payments. I was able to make a referral for them to the Consumer Credit Counseling Agency and types of help they can get from their local bank. They did not know and were very grateful for the help,” said Meyer.
One of the best referrals that I made so far was the What is “Making Home Affordable” program. This program is part of President Obama’s comprehensive strategy to get the housing market back on track. Through the Making Home Affordable Program,
up to 9 million American families may be eligible to refinance or modify their loans
to a payment that is affordable now and into the future. Many people are not aware of this adds Meyer. For more help on this program or for an eligibility assessment to refinance, go to www.makinghomeaffordable.com.
Three cases stopped by on Tuesday, the first day we opened,” said Jessica Engel, executive director of the Lycoming Law Association. The local center will be covering seven counties through this office, said Engel. Besides Lycoming, the program is designed for Columbia, Montour, Union, Northumberland, Snyder and Tioga. “Through publicity and word of mouth these county citizens will need to come here,” she said. “We want to help them, not to give them a lawyer. We want to get them to the right place,” she adds, “depending on their situation, whether it’s financial or legal.”
On June 23, there was a kick-off event for the program and that is when the volunteers received the resource guide. Engel also made booklets to use on site to make referrals. “It is very comprehensive,” she said. Another reason Lycoming County was chosen was because there are 200 lawyers who are members of the the Lycoming Law Association which gives us the largest pool of volunteers in the zone,” explained Engel. Consumer legal pamphlets are also available explaining credit rights and credit reports.
Jennifer L. Heverly, an attorney with North Penn Legal Services was also volunteering her time. “Our goal is to spread it out thoroughly and have a number of volunteers thoughout the program.” There are twenty “Self Help Desks” across Pennsylvania throughout the duration of the program. “We are hoping to spread the word, especially about the refinance and modification loan programs. I will definitely come again,” said Heverly.
Butterfield acknowledged that enough volunteers have been recruited for the month of July without a problem. Several banks including Woodlands and Jersey Shore State Banks and credit unions responded to notices sent out earlier.
The program will end on September 11 with a National Day of Service and Remembrance. For more information, call 570-323-8287. “Referrals can be made anytime for civil, real estate, or personal injury,” comments Engel. “If you don’t know where to go for help, we will get you there.”