Business

National 'hero' helpline plants itself in Kitsap County

Joan Qvigstad is the assistant program director for Herocare. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Joan Qvigstad is the assistant program director for Herocare.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

POULSBO — Financial stress is one of the heaviest burdens to bear.

From not being able to pay off car or home loans to worst-case scenarios of foreclosure, thoughts like these play out in an increasing number of minds, said Poulsbo local Joan Qvigstad, pointing to current research by RealtyTrac Inc. and Economy.com.

According to the research, Americans owe a collective $8 trillion in mortgage debt and about two million families are predicted to lose their homes to foreclosure before the end of 2008.

But now there is a one-stop call for help — (877) HERO-411.

Qvigstad is an assistant program director for Herocare, a nation-wide, non-profit dedicated to providing community heroes with free financial advice and discounted services, offered as a “thank you” for serving.

Herocare, founded in 2006 by Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Lane Houk in Florida, assists military service members, educators, health care workers, government employees and first response such as police, firefighters, paramedics and EMS personnel.

Now, it is up and running to serve heroes in Kitsap County.

“We are growing fast,” said Houk in a phone interview. “We didn’t even launch until February 2007 and are already in 12 states. It has been such a positive thing.”

Kitsap joins the ranks of 38 other counties that have adopted the organization.

“Initially it will be used to help heroes housing-wise and financially,” Qvigstad said.

As it grows in Kitsap, the organization could come to include local affiliates providing mental health care, counseling, retail business discounts and home improvement services.

“Eventually we will have a Herocare card recognized for discounts in restaurants and gas stations. We will have all the professionals banning together to make it as easy as possible to benefit the heroes of our community,” said David Beck, Herocare program director. He is also the vice president of CFA Northwest Mortgage Professionals at a joint office on Bainbridge Island.

Like Beck, Qvigstad has her background at CFA Northwest Mortgage Professionals as a certified mortgage planner at her office in Poulsbo.

The work that Qvigstad and Beck do is all volunteer; both say they continue to do it out of strong belief in the same mission Herocare leads — “In the passionate pursuit of transforming our community, Herocare Celebrates the service, Appreciates the sacrifice, Recognizes the needs, and Empowers heroes to achieve their dreams of home ownership and financial security.”

Because of their line of work, both Beck and Qvigstad know the feelings of financial frustration.

“If you take a look at Bainbridge Island,” Beck said, “There’s about 60 percent of the people living off island and commuting in for jobs because they can’t afford to live there. But now, with gas being more than $4.25 per gallon that is a big consideration. It would be great to be renting out the vacant homes on the island.”

And Herocare could help with that, as soon as more people find out about it.

“It’s just a real good program,” Beck said. “It’s just going to take time to build it from both the hero side and provider side.”

Affiliates who believe in giving back to heroes in the community are pre-screened by Herocare and pay a fee to become an acknowledged provider. Affiliates discount services above and beyond what would ever be offered to the general public.

The goal is to save public servants between $200 and $500 each month on services and discounts.

“It’s a real tough economy and people need help trimming their budgets in a positive way,” Qvigstad said. “Especially now with the rising gas prices and the mounting foreclosure concerns.”

All that’s needed is a quick dial to the 24-hour, toll-free line, that can connect you with organizations all over the country.

“That was the goal, to create a reliable hub of a network where if you moved or transfer you will still only need to know that one number to call for help,” Beck said. “We are the support system.”

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