Never in a million years did 84-year-old Edna Reeves think she would live in a brand new home. But there she was Tuesday with the keys to her remodeled cottage.
"It doesn't look like the same house. It's so beautiful," said Reeves, as her grandson, Michael Renfroe, pushed her wheelchair through the front door of the two-bedroom Bibb City residence at Linden Point.
On the inside, local media, volunteers and government officials welcomed Reeves to the new dwelling, while family members expressed sheer joy.
Reeves, the widow of a Navy veteran and mill worker, is now the seventh recipient of a home through the NeighborWorks Columbus Cottage Program, which builds new cottages for indigent seniors. The yellow house with white trimming has a front porch. It is also fully furnished and includes a handicap accessible shower for Reeves.
Reeves had lived in the house 50 years before the renovation project began six months ago. When she could no longer afford the upkeep, she turned to the House of Heroes, an organization that helps military veterans and their spouses with home repairs, improvements and maintenance.
House of Heroes referred Reeves to NeighborWorks Columbus and then teamed up with the organization to completely gut and renovate the dilapidated structure, where floors and ceilings were caving in.
The project led to a formal collaboration between the two organizations to assist veterans and surviving spouses.
Reeves became the first military recipient.
Prior to entering the home, she was presented with the key at a formal ceremony, which attracted about 35 people.
John Teeples, a House of Heroes board member, shared an experience he had while working on the project a few months ago. He said he ran across a picture of Reeves when she was about 19 or 20.
"That picture was a very beautiful picture of a young lady that had lots of energy, spark and dreams in her eyes," he said. "Where she thought she might end up, probably was not right here in Bibb City in this particular house."
He said the picture inspired him and other volunteers as they helped bring the house back to life.
At the end of the ceremony, Kenneth Cutis, district director for the office of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, presented Reeves with an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol.
He said it was presented to honor Reeves and her deceased husband, Darrell, for their service to the U.S. military.
"We're very happy anytime we as a country, we as a community, can show our appreciation to someone who has served in the armed forces of the United States and also a surviving spouse of someone who has served in the armed forces of the United States," he said. "Because we would not be the country that we are, we would not have the freedoms that we have if we did not have those men and women offering themselves to serve our great country."
Other residents of the home include Reeves' 54-year-old son, James, her primary caretaker and a pest control technician; her 36-year-old granddaughter, Melissa Fuller; and Fuller's 19-year-old daughter, Cori.
As they toured the house on Tuesday, they were overcome with emotion as they checked out the renovations, new furniture and appliances.
They said Darrell Reeves died in 2003, hoping that the family would get assistance for the dilapidated house. Five days later, Fuller's mother and Reeves' daughter died there.
On Tuesday, Reeves' son, James, said he couldn't believe the transformation.
"It's incredible," he said, standing by the bedroom he will share with his mother. "I'm almost brought to tears."