Veteran's widow the latest recipient of NeighborWorks cottage

Eighty-three-year-old Edna Reeves could no longer keep up the Bibb City house she has lived in for 50 years. So as the widow of a Navy veteran, she turned to House of Heroes, an organization that helps military veterans and their spouses with home repairs, improvements and maintenance.

But when representatives of the organization entered the home, they realized the house didn’t just need repairs, but a total overhaul. So, they referred Reeves to the Columbus Cottage Program hoping she would get a brand new home.

On Friday, the two organizations held a news conference to not only present Reeves as the 7th Columbus Cottage recipient, but also to announce a formal collaboration to expand their programs to assist veterans and surviving spouses. Under the new arrangements, House of Heroes will move its offices to the headquarters of NeighborWorks Columbus, which administers the cottage program, according to Mark Ellis, chairman of the House of Heroes board.

On Saturday, the two organizations coordinated about 40 volunteers who showed up at Reeves' house, located at #3 Linden Point, to remove her belongings before the house is gutted and completely renovated. Cathy Williams, executive director of NeighborWorks Columbus, said it is a win-win situation for everyone.

“We went to House of Heroes and said we’ve got the money, you’ve got the volunteers so let’s make some magic in Columbus, Ga.,” she said at the news conference. “We know magic happens in this town every single day. But what we’re really excited about is how this collaboration is going to improve the quality of life for Mrs. Reeves and her family because she is so deserving of our help.”

Prior to Williams’ comments, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson introduced Reeves as the latest cottage recipient. When it was Reeves’ turn to speak, she struggled to get up from her wheelchair, walked with assistance to a seat next to the podium and told the audience how grateful she was that the two organizations, in collaboration with the city, were saving her home. Sitting in the audience were her son, James, and her granddaughter, Melissa Fuller, who said they both also live in the house.

James Reeves, 54, is his mother’s primary caretaker. He said his father, Darrell, served in the navy and was a retired textile mill worker before he died in June 2003. He said the family moved into the house in 1964 when he was only four years old. He said it’s one of what’s known as “The Bibb Houses,” built for people working at the Bibb Mill.

“My father passed away and the house continually got worse and worse,” said James, a pest control technician. “We replaced the back roof on the house at least three times but it just never took. It needed a complete reroofing and it’s tremendously bad and leaking in there. Something had to be done and I’m so appreciative of NeighborWorks and House of Heroes. They’ve done a tremendous job.”

Fuller, Reeves’ 36-year-old granddaughter, said her mother, Reeve’s second daughter, died in the house five days after her grandfather passed.

“It was a really hard time for us,” she said. “The house fell into disrepair and I’m not able to work myself due to my health and my uncle works and he doesn’t get paid enough to fix a house, and it was just falling down around us.

“My grandfather knew it was falling into disrepair,” she said. “And he went to his grave praying for a way -- help, any help. So, this is a blessing completely and truly.”

Williams said the Cottage Program started about eight year ago when she received a call from an employee in the city’s inspections division who invited her to go to lunch. The employee told her about a woman, Jociel Smith, who was living in a dilapidated house. Williams said she met with city officials who agreed that something needed to be done for elderly people in Smith’s situation, and within an hour the cottage program was born.

Smith, who turned 96 Friday, attended the news conference. She welcomed Reeves to the family of cottage recipients and told the crowd how much she has enjoyed her cottage home. She said she’s lived in Columbus 77 years and was denied many opportunities because of gender and racial discrimination. But through Tomlinson’s leadership and organizations like NeighborWorks Columbus, she said, she’s seen a big change in the city.

“This isn’t the Columbus I knew,” she said to the audience. “I’m proud of Columbus.”