COPPERAS COVE, TEXAS: During the Christmas season of 2019, a story was shared about a man in Texas who was recycling Christmas trees to make canes for disabled veterans.
Social media was inundated with the story of Canes for Veterans Central Texas, and pretty soon, credible media outlets were reaching out to share the story, especially after the Home Depot in Killeen brought James “Jamie” Willis, founder of Canes for Veterans,a large donation of trees.
Willis, age 50, said of the Home Depot donation, “We were speechless, honestly. The amazing Home Depot crew of the Killeen store had a convoy of , and went back and forth from Killeen bringing us the trees four times.”
He continued, “They helped us download and stack the trees, and they have called and checked up on us. We are so touched by the kindness and support we have received from the Home Depot.”
Canes for Veterans Central Texas began in 2016 because of a personal need. Willis served in the United States Army from 1989-1989. He told The Murphy Gazette during an email interview on January 4 that, “I am 100 percent disabled from injuries sustained from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle accident.”
“I was paralyzed for almost three weeks total before regaining all mobility, and returning back to the battlefield during Desert Storm,” Willis explained. “I was in need of a cane after two that I received from the VA (Veteran’s Administration) had broken while using them.”
He said, “I came across free canes for veterans on Facebook, which is implemented by Oscar Morris. He had a list of 500 canes he was making, and his list was full.”
Willis said, “He was kind enough to walk me through how to make a cane. I made my own, and contacted Mr Morris.”
Morris told Willis, “’Now make another, and give it away, and make another and give that one away.’ That’s how Canes for Veterans Central Texas came about in 2016.”
Willis said making his first cane was “a little stressful. I was not sure it would be good enough for someone else.
“It is not an overnight process,” he said about making the canes. “It takes time, and it is something to put your heart into, and know that each individual cane is special.”
Imagine a pause for reflection here as Willis added, “I remember every cane I have made. They are unique … just like the individual I am making the cane for.”
In deciding about trees to use to make canes, he stated, “Any tree has the potential to become a cane. It may sound strange, but it is like they talk to me.”
Willis added, “I can look at a tree, its features, its curves, and see a cane I want to make. The process can be done within a day, and in as long as a week. It all depends on how much detail someone wants added to their cane.”
In receiving trees and preparing them, Willis appreciates the help from volunteers. “Volunteers come from everywhere. Like the 254Whiskermen crew, they were corresponding with one of the secretaries, and that turned into a Tree Drop Off, and brought in over 160 trees.”
“I actually put a post on my neighborhood Facebook page last year saying if anyone wanted to come and hangout to come on by while I was working on canes. Now I have have met lifetime friends, because of it, who help me build the canes.”
The canes that Willis makes are free. “I will never sell a cane.”
To receive a cane, Willis said, “It is not a matter of us deciding who to give them to … anyone can fill out our form, and get a cane.”
He continued, “To listen to their stories … what each individual is going through … I have been touched by every phone call i have received.”
The Murphy Gazette asked Willis how people could help him with his organization’s mission. “Spread the word, pick up your own branch, make a cane. Give it away. Spread the love in their own way. Make another cane. Give it away.” You can email Canes for Veterans Central Texas at email@example.com or through the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/j.willis1122/.
When he was asked to define the word hope, Willis said, “Hope … I don’t know how to define the word hope. Hope is the next step. It is finding the positivity in the darkness and to keep pushing forward.”
He added, “You keep pushing forward, you don’t stop, no matter what. It is not just about the canes, we are here to listen.”
The final question was if he had a superpower, what would it be and why? Willis paused, “None, I like who I am now … I love who I am now.”
And, Jamie Willis, we like you too … thank you for your military service and for your service to your fellow veterans by making these canes.
That’s a good news story for sure. –Story by B.L. Holland