Jamie Willis and Canes for Veterans recognized by Congressman
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Jamie Willis made headlines in December for his efforts to collect discarded Christmas trees to use to make canes for veterans through his organization Canes for Veterans Central Texas.
The community responded in a big way, with more than 1,000 trees being donated to Willis by the first week of 2020. With this many trees, Willis made a goal of making 1,000 canes in the year 2020.
Since then, Willis and his team of volunteers have been steadily working towards that goal.
On Friday, Willis was recognized for his efforts by U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (District 25), who presented Willis with a copy of a speech Williams made on the House of Representatives floor, a certificate of recognition and a folded American flag that was flown over the United States capitol in Washington, D.C.
Williams and his staff visited Willis at his home on Jessie Drive in Copperas Cove, where they were treated to a first-hand look at where Willis makes each cane and at different canes that were currently waiting on another coat of epoxy.
Canes for Veterans Central Texas was recently approved for 501(c)19 status, which is an IRS tax exemption status that applies to veteran-owned organizations. Individual contributions made to the organization are now considered tax-deductible.
Willis explained to Williams that he works on every cane in his garage, which also houses his birds. When it’s too cold or the weather is bad, he can’t work on the canes, because the dust from the wood is harmful to the birds, Willis said. He said he wants to get a shop built on another piece of property he owns, which he estimated would cost between $10,000 to $15,000.
“You know, I talked about you in D.C.,” Williams told Willis of when he spoke on the House floor about Willis’ efforts with Canes for Veterans Central Texas.
Williams read aloud what he had said to Willis and his friends and family.
“’I rise to honor a great Texan and United States Army veteran, Jamie Willis of Copperas Cove, Texas,’” Williams read. “’Since 2016, Jamie has run Canes for Veterans Central Texas, an organization that creates free walking sticks for veterans in need. While serving our country overseas as a cavalry scout in Operation Desert Storm, Jamie was involved in an accident that left him briefly paralyzed and now disabled, and wrestling with severe depression and PTSD. When he returned home, he would travel to the local VA for treatment where he was issued a cane to use that never held up. So, he decided to make his own out of repurposed Christmas trees. An effort that started out as a necessity three years ago has now grown to a team of 60 volunteers who have made more than 220 canes. Jamie says crafting these canes is his true calling and they have brought him back from the brink of taking his own life--and he has changed the lives of those around him. I want to honor Jamie today and thank him on behalf of the 25th District of Texas for his continued service to our nation. In God we trust.’”
Williams handed Willis the copy of the Congressional Record, the boxed and folded American flag and the certificate of recognition.
Before Williams left, Willis gave him and his field representative Don Nicholas each a wooden replica of a 25mm round that would be fired from a M2/M3 Bradley (Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle) that he and other volunteers with Canes for Veterans Central Texas had made.
“What you’re doing to help others may be as of great service as you’ve given too, to help some of these folks,” Williams told Willis and the other volunteers before leaving. “They’re in need of it.”
Willis said he hadn’t expected Williams to have spoken about him and Canes for Veterans Central Texas in Washington, D.C.
“That was totally unexpected,” Willis said. “[I’m] very honored and shocked. I didn’t think that it went up that high.”
Willis shared that he is still working towards his goal of making 1,000 canes in 2020. He has made approximately 50 so far, with 400 plus orders already received. Despite the massive amount of wood donated after Christmas and at the beginning of the year, Willis and his volunteers are in need of dry wood, specifically pieces that are at least three feet in length and four inches in diameter.
“We have all the wet stuff, but we need dry wood, wood that’s able to be worked with,” Willis said. “All the trees that we received, they can’t be touched until June or July. It was a blessing to get all of that stuff, but I can’t use it until June or July.”
Willis said that a man from Wisconsin named Bob Defatte had recently driven all the way to Copperas Cove to drop off 900 pounds of black walnut, but that wood needs a minimum of six months to dry out.
Willis said he has reached out to a local businessman who will provide some dry wood to help currently.
If they’re interested in donating dry wood or helping financially, people can send a message to the Canes for Veterans Central Texas Facebook page