Johnston Lee Harnett Community Action Continues to Empower and Embolden Despite Pandemic
Frank* and his father had both recently moved in together. They were both gainfully employed and were making substantial progress on their home’s mortgage. The two men were even getting close to paying off the home entirely when Frank’s father lost his job. Not long after, Frank lost his too.
Suddenly, a family with only a few payments left on their mortgage found themselves in foreclosure.
According to Community Service Block Grant Director Tina Ray at Johnston Lee Harnett Community Action (JLHCA), foreclosures will only increase as the pandemic continues, particularly for those individuals who do not qualify for the federal and statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
“With the moratorium against evictions and foreclosures, if the foreclosure was already in process, the [moratorium] didn’t stop it. If it started before the state of emergency was declared, they can proceed with it. If there weren’t any Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds involved in it, they could proceed with it.”
Thankfully, Tina, her coworkers, the agency’s HUD Certified Housing Counselor, and the executive director at JLHCA were able to intervene and stop the foreclosure of the home owned by Frank and his father using a Rapid Response Fund grant from United Way of the Greater Triangle. Now Frank is back at work and financially stable.
Throughout its 55 year history, JLHCA has focused on helping vulnerable populations achieve independence and become self-sufficient. Tina Ray explains that one of the organizations most successful initiatives, the S.T.A.R.S. program, helps Johnston, Lee, and Harnett County residents who are “just sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The program assigns each enrollee a counselor who helps guides them towards self-sufficiency by integrating four (4) key elements that include educational assistance, employment assistance/information, financial literacy, and housing.
There is a major emphasis at JLHCA on helping underserved communities understand the intricacies of homeownership. The organization has a HUD-certified counselor on staff that helps their clients navigate purchasing a home through pre-purchase, homebuyers’ education, mortgage default, foreclosure prevention, financial counseling and reverse mortgage counseling. They also run a weatherization program that educates low-income persons on how to reduce their energy consumption and lower their monthly bills. The program performs needed services designed to keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer by sealing air leaks, caulking windows, doors and other repairs needed to safe and healthy.
Since COVID-19 emerged, JLHCA has been primarily focused on helping people just like Frank through various rent and utility assistance programs. Through two separate Rapid Response Fund grants, the organization has helped over 30 households pay their rent and utilities on time.
The organization has also been directly involved in helping vulnerable citizens find housing throughout the pandemic. One young pregnant woman had just found out that someone she had been living with had tested positive for COVID-19 and had resorted to sleeping in her car out of fear of contracting the virus. JLHCA was able to secure her a private apartment. Tina Ray uses this story to emphasize the importance of housing security. “It didn’t just affect her as far as housing was concerned, but it affected her well-being and mental health. It affected her physical health because of the stress of being pregnant.”
As stay-at-home orders and social distancing orders began to take effect, one of the organization’s biggest challenges was making sure people could still access their services. JLHCA was quick to adjust.
“If you call our phones, it will tell you what you need to do. We put our applications on our website. The systems that we use are web-based. We gave our staff cellphones and laptops. For those who may not be savvy as far as computers are concerned, they can call, and we will do the application by phone.”
All these steps have paid off, as JLHCA has successfully responded to the substantial increase in demand brought about by the pandemic. Still, Tina Ray believes it’s the team at JLHCA under the dynamic and innovative leadership of our Executive Director, Mrs. E. Marie Watson, and their desire to listen to and help the community that really sets them apart.
“Some people don’t want your sympathy. But if you can empathize with their situation and understand that no matter why they came here for help, that these people are deserving of your respect, your time, and your patience to help them in their situation.”
Tina points out that the words SILENT and LISTEN are anagrams of each other, and that it would be impossible for her team to truly listen to the people who seek out their help if they aren’t silent.
“Sometimes when people are talking to us and telling us their situation, our mind is racing with all the answers like ‘I’m going to send them here or refer them over there, but you can miss one word and miss the meaning behind that conversation. So be silent and listen. And a lot of times in the telling, when they hear themselves verbalize it, they may have already found a solution. Because whoever holds the problem, holds the solution.”
“*” Name Changed for Privacy
United Way of the Greater Triangle’s Rapid Response Fund is now accepting donations to support Wake, Durham, Orange, and Johnston County residents needing access to food, childcare, and rental assistance now more than ever.
Funds collected will supply funding for Greater Triangle-area nonprofit organizations providing the emergency support listed above. 100% of the funds collected today, and every day, will go back out into the community.
For more information check out https://www.unitedwaytriangle.org/response/
For more information about Johnston Lee Harnett Community Action, check out https://www.jlhcommunityaction.org/