(Editor's note: this story originated on Snellville Patch.)
On Monday, Nov. 12, friends, family, students, Snellville city officials and Occupy Our Homes Atlanta stood in solidarity with Parkwood Farms, a therapeutic riding center in Snellville for children with disabilities.
Owner Marilyn Peterson has issued a plea for support and a call to action to help save the riding center. The Sheriff's department arrived on Wednesday, Nov. 7, with an eviction notice, even though she said was no warning beforehand.
Without the farm, she and her family have no income. One of her sons is fully disabled, while another never leaves the house due to Asperger's. It was their disabilities that inspired Peterson to begin the therapeutic farm to begin with, eleven years ago.
While the eviction blindsided her, she has been fighting the banks for over two years now. Her case is actually in litigation in federal court.
Peterson said that she received a predatory loan in 2004. When she refinanced it in 2011, she was told that the terms would be good for "the life of the loan."
"What they didn't tell me was that the 'life of the loan' was only two years," she said.
According to Peterson, the people handling her foreclosure say that "so many things are wrong with this that they are doing it pro bono." The contract, the way the proceedings were handled, and even the way she was given the loan are under federal investigation.
Filling a Void in the Community
The stories kept on coming during Monday's rally from parents of children with disabilities.
"My son has severe autism," said Renn McClintic-Doyle, who also serves on the Board of Directors for Parkwood Farms, "and has ridden here for nine years. We have seen amazing changes in his life, and a big part of that is learning to bond and relate to the animals and the volunteers who work with him every day."
Her son was previously very aggressive; he was turned down by seven different special needs camps due the severity of his autism, seizure disorders and the fact that he's nonverbal.
"This program fills a need that other places in the community won’t meet," said McClintic-Doyle.
Although he can't bathe himself, her son is able to bathe and care for a horse.
Session leader and stay-at-home mother Jill Davis, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, said that the time spent on the farm just volunteering has changed her on a "fundamental level."
"They’re not messing with a farm," she stated, "they’re messing with a community. It’s important that Parkwood Farms maintain their status in the community as a leading therapy center."
Others shared how their children have blossomed after spending time at Parkwood Farms, including the daughter of Rebecca Valdez, Linda, a young Lilburn girl with Down Syndrome. Linda earned three gold medals at the Gwinnett Special Olympics recently.
"She’s more patient, has more self control, more self confidence," said Valdez. "She’s just a different kid."
Linda did not come to the rally, said Rebecca, because she gets "too emotional about this."
Barbara DeBoer's granddaughter, Maya, was at the rally, and prays repeatedly that "God brings the horses back." Maya was diagnosed with autism and had severe developmental delays. She is another child who has grown leaps and bounds after therapy sessions at the Farm.
"It’s unusual that you find something in your community so close to home that targets almost every need of a child with a disability," said DeBoer.
The City Responds
The presence of the Snellville mayor, along with the entire city council and members of the Greater Eastside Chamber of Commerce, made a huge impression on those in attendance.
"Dr. Peterson and Parkwood Farms fill a void in our community," said Mayor Kelly Kautz. "They are the essnce of what our city stands for. I don’t know what we as a government can do for Parkwood Farms, but as leaders in our community we have an obligation to stand up for what’s right. What Parkwood Farms is doing for our community is the right thing. We thank Dr. Peterson for all she’s done, and she’s not alone in this fight."
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts echoed Kautz's sentiments, adding that "when one of us feels the pain, the city unites and gets behind them."
Councilwoman Diane Krause said that she came not as a member of the council, but as a mother and grandmother.
"My heart hurts for the grandmothers and children; without these facilities, it hurts the community, but it also hurts the private families. I offer my support and my prayers."
Councilmen Bobby Howard, Dave Emanuel and Mike Sabbagh also spoke out in support of the center, saying that we need to "step up" and help Dr. Peterson fight to keep her home and therapy center.
The goal now is to get a temporary emergency halt on the eviction.
Her mortgage is held by Everhome Mortgage, and HSBC Bank acts as trustee. Rob Sherman, the Vice President of Media Relations at HSBC, said that HSBC "acts as a trustee for a number of residential mortgage backed securities." As trustee, there is nothing they can do regarding the foreclosure proceedings.
"We have no role in making those decisions," said Sherman. He also issued the following statement through email for further clarification:
"HSBC Bank USA acts as trustee in connection with a number of residential mortgage-backed securitizations, and in such cases, the agreements governing the securitization spell out what the trustee, the servicer and other transaction parties are permitted and not permitted to do.
"It is the servicer who is responsible for servicing the mortgage loans in accordance with the terms of the agreements and applicable law, including foreclosures and mortgage assignments."
Everhome Mortgage Vice President of Public Relations Michael Cosgrove said that although they are sympathetic to Dr. Peterson's situation, it is Everhome's policy to not comment on individual cases.
"Everhome analyzes the circumstances of each homeowner for appropriate alternatives to foreclosure," said Cosgrove.
As of now, the Gwinnett County Sheriff's department has no comment.
"We need HSBC to recognize that there is a civil case in the courts, which they have ignored," said Kate Morgan, operations manager for Landguard America, the firm representing Peterson. (Based on HSBC's statements, it is more likely that is referring to Everhome, not HSBC.) "I’ve been in this business long enough to know when it’s business, and when it’s just mean spirited. It seems like they’re just trying to break her spirit."
We will continue to update this story as more information is made available. One challenge faced by Peterson is the red tape involved, and finding the right people to talk to from each agency.
This evening, Nov. 13, at 6:00 p.m., a candlelight vigil will be held at Parkwood Farms. Rev. Owen Skinner of Tucker First United Methodist will be present in support of the farm.
(Editor's note: HSBC has contacted Snellville Patch to clarify the fact that HSBC is only the trustee. Everhome Mortgage is a a subsidiary of EverBank Financial Corp.)