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Arbutus foundation to offer financial guidance for free

As a basketball referee, Joe Liggett has spent much of his adult life running up and down the courts in the metropolitan Baltimore area.

But Liggett's travels have always led him back to his native Arbutus.

Now, the 48-year-old with deep roots in the community is on a mission to help those in the southwestern area of Baltimore County who are facing a financial crisis.

As director of the newly-formed Help 4 Homeowners Community Foundation, Liggett plans to offer credit counseling, mortgage modification assistance, real estate consulting and financial educational tutoring at no charge to residents of Arbutus, Catonsville, Lansdowne and Elkridge.

"We're up to a 10 percent unemployment rate in this area," Liggett said. "If you have high unemployment, you're going to have some serious economic problems. From the figures that I have seen, we could have over 80,000 foreclosures in Baltimore County during the next 24 months.

"In the beginning, we will be first-come, first-served. We'll have a consultation with each person, go over everything, and give them some guidance."

Liggett, a 1982 graduate of Catonsville High, began his professional career with Westinghouse before becoming a mortgage lender with Baltimore American Mortgage. He later became a real estate agent in the Catonsville/Arbutus community, and expanded his business to Ocean City.

When the first wave of the foreclosure crisis hit in late 2006, Liggett formed the idea of providing the services that the Help 4 Homeowners Community Foundation will eventually provide.

As Liggett researched foreclosures, he realized their impact on communities and became more determined to help.

"Home ownership is a very important part of our community," said Liggett, an active volunteer with adult softball and basketball leagues in the area. "This is my community, and I've grown up in and run the programs. I've been very involved, and I don't want to see families that are foreclosed on wind up on the street, heartbroken. As I get older, I think about what I can contribute now."

Liggett is not alone in his mission to help others. Michael Grace, an attorney and part-owner of the Leadership Through Athletics facility in Halethorpe, will handle the firm's legal work. Liggett's sister, Kathy Frost, is a real estate appraiser who will help with that function.

Liggett will also be assisted by his daughter, Ashley Oursler, a former buyer's agent with an understanding of the real estate business. Oursler, who grew up in Catonsville and now lives in Prince Frederick, will do the bulk of the credit counseling for the new enterprise.

"Many people simply don't have the knowledge," said Oursler, a 2002 graduate of Catonsville High. "We want to point them in the right direction and take them step-by-step through the process, so they don't have to lose their homes."

The foundation will offer one-on-one credit counseling with a goal of eventually offering financial tutoring sessions at community churches and local colleges.

"These are all areas that I've worked in, and in the beginning I'm going to be the person meeting 90 percent of the people," Liggett said. "These are areas that I feel comfortable speaking about, and I want to give them the knowledge and experience that I have."

Liggett hopes his background can help bring about a better outcome for the hard-working, blue-collar community that the foundation seeks to assist.

"Everything in our economy has a trickle-down effect," Liggett said. "And if you can improve different areas of a family's life, it will improve the entire community. This foundation is something I believe in. Our mission is right, and it is something we can sustain if we do it the right way."

Oursler realizes that the challenge goes what the Help 4 Homeowners Community Foundation offers.

"Growing up, it always seemed like the perfect community," she said. "It was vibrant. Now, it seems like things are falling apart, due to job loss and so many other problems. It's hard to see people go through these tough times and not be able to help."

"The biggest challenge is getting people to understand that there is help out there and that they do have an option," she said. "Right now, we're trying to get funds in place and give people what they need to get through this time in their lives."

To that end, the new foundation held its first fundraiser Friday at the Leadership Through Athletics facility of Hammonds Ferry Road.

The "Back to School Family Laser Tag Night" is open to all members of the community. While laser tag is the main draw, the event will also feature carnival games, such as the ring toss, bean-bag toss, and baseball and football throws.

Liggett has not set a fundraising goal for the event, but hopes the night will give participants the opportunity to learn about the Help 4 Homeowners Community Foundation and its mission.

"We're not going to be able to do the work that is needed with just one fundraiser," said Liggett, a part-time real estate agent who currently lives in Ferndale but plans to move back to Arbutus within the next three months. "We plan to do 8-10 fundraisers per year."

The money raised at Friday's event will also be used to alleviate the immediate financial distress of area families.

An Emergency Family Utility Fund will enable the foundation to provide vouchers to help with gas and electric bills, while a Family Food Fund is designed to provide those in need with funding for food purchases.

Liggett hopes to build on the success of Laser Tag Night with other fundraisers, including a Casino Night at the Arbutus Town Hall.

"For now, we want to sustain our efforts through fundraising," said Liggett, who will handle the mortgage modification side of the venture. "That will help us show people who are in crisis what their options are. Eventually, we would love to get grants from, and work with, the county and state governments."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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