Jamie Willis served in the US Army for nearly a decade before returning home disabled and unable to work.
Beyond his physical disability, Willis soon found he needed something to keep his mind busy. It’s an all-too-common for soldiers returning home, but thankfully, Willis found an incredible outlet.
The cane Willis was provided by Veteran Affairs lacked stability, something he soon found was a common complaint among other vets. He connected with a Florida based organization that provides handmade custom canes to veterans, but Willis wanted something else. He wanted to learn how to make the canes in order to help as many of his fellow brothers and sisters as possible.
Oscar Morris, lead of Free Canes For Veterans happily obliged. Morris initially formed the organization but says there are new 5 other branches across the country all run by vets. “One day, grab a cane and walk with it,” Morris said. “You will feel broken because others will see you as broken. We make our canes for veterans to look ‘cool’ while giving honor for their service.”
Willis did so well that he was tasked to run a Central Texas branch of the non-profit. In the last few years, Willis has crafted over 200 completely custom canes — an important gift for those who need them.
While the benefit to the recipients is obvious, Willis tells CNN it’s about much more. “I do this so I don’t sit home all day feeling sorry for myself,” he says, adding “This is all out of kindness. I do everything out of pocket and from donations.”
So working with a tight budget, the industrious new woodworker had a bright idea: Christmas trees.
He started seeking donations after Christmas, planning on turning donated fir trees into individual canes for as many people as possible. The community response was immediate with over 100 trees dropped off by families. Add to that nearly 400 trees shipped to Willis from Home Depot and it looks like the savvy soldier will be busy for some time to come.
While his labor is a major portion of the process, Willis and the organization are always seeking funds to cover the cost of shipping the canes to the vets who need them. There’s a GoFundMe page with further details.
With the enormous response, Willis now says he’s looking to provide canes for anyone locally who may need them, military or not.
Willis, Morris and the countless other veterans who continue to serve long after they’ve returned from active service are a testament to the strong bonds forged in the line of duty and the lessons they’ve learned both here at home and abroad.
We salute all veterans, their families and all those who give of themselves in order to make the lives of those around them better.