CRANE HILL, Ala. – It was June 22, 2021 when retired Army SSGT. Clinton Baker prayed, “Lord, find me a home or take me home.” The next morning, as he stopped at the Jet Pep in West Point, he did something a little out of the ordinary for him–he picked up the newspaper. He saw an ad for a new, fully furnished low-income housing opportunity for veterans in Crane Hill named Connie’s Cottages. Thursday afternoon, Baker became their first resident.
Baker had wasted no time and answered the ad by calling the number and reaching Mr. Irv Jones. Jones, a resident of San Francisco, explained his vision at a groundbreaking ceremony in August 2019, “I’m from a faith-based perspective and I was watching some faith-based programming about two years ago. It was an organization out of South Carolina that was partnering with the Dream Center in Los Angeles. Observing that programming, they were introducing the fact that there were veterans either coming out of theater or out of the military all together and they were having difficulty finding affordable housing. Their perspective was to reach out and be a supportive arm.”
On a visit to the Cullman County area to purchase an airplane, he and wife Connie fell in love with the area, especially the quiet serenity of Smith Lake. Jones soon purchased a 5-acre wooded waterfront lot in Crane Hill and set his vision in motion to build Connie’s Cottages for veterans and as a gift to his wife Connie, a four-time cancer survivor.
Jones reached out to the Cullman County Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2214 for some guidance and over the past two years, Jones has developed a wonderful relationship with those at the VFW, including Commander Brian Monk and Col. Ken Brown (who served as Master of Ceremonies Thursday afternoon).
Among the speakers Thursday afternoon was Cullman County Commission Chairman Jeff “Clem” Clemons. He said of the location, “This is Lay Bottoms/Crooked Creek. This is a big thing for Cullman County and for all our vets. He (Jones) had a vision, and to be in San Francisco and have a vision like this, to come here to Crane Hill, Alabama, is really something.”
Walker Brothers in Baileyton built the cottage. They selected natural wood for the interior in keeping with the natural surroundings. The VFW Auxiliary held fundraisers to furnish the cottage and provide appliances. They also worked tirelessly to add the perfect touches to turn the “house into a home.”
Marine Corps veteran Sean Schofield and his family also dedicated their time and efforts by landscaping the surrounding area with lush sod and flower beds. Schofield selected pink rose bushes to honor Connie Jones. He said, “Jones gave me the opportunity to be the instrument of his deliverance and I bought into this mission lock, stock and barrel.”
Schofield continued, “I think the first couple of days, my wife and I just came out here and looked to see what we wanted this to look like. It was like putting a puzzle together.” Schofield has developed a relationship with Baker and said, “He is one of the most highly decorated peacetime veterans I have ever met.”
During the ceremony, Schofield spoke about the impact that Jones had on his life. He said, “This house isn’t necessarily just the story of success of one man trying to look out for another man. This story started long before. I was one of the original benefactors of the stellate ganglion block PTSD shot. Before I had gone through that procedure, I was like one of many vets you see. I put a smile on my face but we are dealing with a lot of darkness and carrying a lot of shadows that we don’t necessarily talk about. Irv was the gentleman who sponsored my trip. He brought me out of the shadows.”
“We found this place by God’s grace, “Jones said. “This is a community for our veterans. They’ve worked hard for this. I didn’t understand what real camaraderie really is until I got to know the vets. The military, they coalesce better than those that are in civilian life. Maybe it’s that common discipline, the common denominator, to accomplish one goal. They certainly leave no one behind. We all know the saying. We all know the soundbite that says, ‘All gave some, but some gave all.’ That’s the way we want to do this, because we want to honor those that put all on the line for all of us that are here today.”
The ceremony concluded with Schofield and Baker raising the American flag together. Baker and Connie Jones were also presented with special gifts before guests were invited to tour Baker’s new home.
“We finally got here!” Jones smiled. “We finally accomplished the first phase, and we look forward to starting the next.” He hopes to break ground on the next cottage sometime in late October or early November and when the project is complete, Connie’s Cottages will consist of seven homes for veterans.
Baker is receiving assistance through the Link of Cullman with funds from Alabama Rural Coalition for the Homeless (ARCH) which received a grant in late May from Governor Kay Ivey with money from the American Cares Act. ARCH case manager Arturo Michaus explained that they had been working with Baker since July to find him a place to call home. Michaus said, “Baker told us about Mr. Jones and having this place built.” ARCH reached out to Jones and on Thursday, they were able to see their client move into his new home.
“It’s so nice! I love it!” Baker said as he pointed to the sky adding, “He heard me. He heard me. He did it. I have a home.”
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