On Christmas Eve 2010, about 18 months after his wife died, Paul Jones did last-minute shopping with his adult children.
He returned to his Dogwood Avenue house exhausted and stretched out on his couch and fell asleep.
He awoke coughing and gasping for air as black smoke filled his home. By the time the firemen extinguished the blaze, his house was destroyed.
Thursday, however, Jones breathed a sigh of gratitude as he became the fifth recipient of a new home from the Columbus Cottage Program, a partnership between NeighborWorks Columbus and the city government.
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Jones, 75, won't be able to move in until around April, but he said it will be worth the wait, especially because it will be built on the same site where he has lived for nearly 40 years.
"I'm just waiting to get back where I can be comfortable again," Jones told the gathering in the NeighborWorks office on 11th Street. "I'm not saying my kids didn't do everything they could for me, but there's nothing like your own home."
Along with renewing individual lives, the program aims to renew neighborhoods, said Colin Martin, chairman of the NeighborWorks Columbus board.
"While it is a direct benefit to that person," Martin said, "it also has a benefit to the whole neighborhood. That's what makes this whole program so terribly important."
Jones grew up in Lumpkin, Ga., and worked 34 years for the state highway department. He also was a youth baseball coach. He was married to Bernice for 50 years and raised two sons and four daughters before she died.
After the fire, Jones discovered that his house wasn't insured. He moved in with one of his sons, but he missed having his own place, his neighborhood friends and his garden, where he grew tomatoes and peppers "so hot you could smell them from afar," Martin said.
After the news conference, Jones said the first thing he plans to do in his new house is "get on my knees and thank God."
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The Columbus Cottage Program is a partnership between NeighborWorks Columbus and the city government, which uses a federal subsidy to match 100 percent of the funds raised in the program's campaign, up to $150,000.
Recipients must be age 70 or older, own their land and be under a certain income level. In return, they get a mortgage-free, two-bedroom home.
To donate to the program or nominate a recipient, go to nwcolumbus.org or call 706-324-(HOME)4663.