Jamie Willis, a former U.S. Army soldier from Texas, started his own cane-making company with money from his own pocket and donations from the community.
Willis became 100 percent disabled and unable to work after joining the Army and serving for eight years.
When Willis discovered he was not the only veteran who wanted a secure, durable stick and “not just ugly,” he founded Canes for Veterans Central Texas in 2016.
“I do this so I don’t sit home all day feeling sorry for myself,” Willis told CNN reporters. “This is all out of kindness. I do everything out of pocket and from donations.”
After his Veterans Affairs cane disappointed him several times, he came across the group Free Canes for Veterans, hoping they may have one available.
Oscar Morris, a 54-year-old U.S. Army veteran and the man behind the group, taught Willis how to make a cane after telling him they had none left.
Willis asked Morris for permission to start a cane-making company in central Texas after effectively making a cane for himself.
“When I successfully sat down and made my very first cane, I asked him if I could branch it off and start Cane for Veterans in Central Texas and he said he would love for me to do that,” Willis shared.
According to Morris, Willis was the fifth former soldier he knew to launch a unit of Free Canes for Veterans.
“It would be a blessing to get the word out for more veterans to do this,” Morris stated. “Each of these veterans were on my original list of 500 in 2015. It was the act of kindness and a piece of wood that was their inspiration.”
Willis makes the canes from donated Christmas trees. Willis has now received Christmas tree donations for three years in a row. Some retail companies specializing in home improvement, like Lowes and The Home Depot, even sent him donations.
Willis can make about one cane from each Christmas tree. He spends an entire day crafting, packaging, and shipping each product to the veteran who will use it.
The veterans receive their canes free of charge, except for shipping and storage fees. Willis will frequently cover the costs himself or with donations if the shipping costs are still too high.
He expects veterans to have an entirely usable cane that is not a nuisance, and he will go to any length to make sure they have it.
“One day, grab a cane and walk with it,” Morris claimed. “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 has now completed over 200 canes. With many of his walking sticks in the hands of former soldiers worldwide, he is considered a global success.
Willis earned a Congressional Record in 2020 for his company’s contributions to the country. Hundreds of hand-made walking sticks have been provided to veterans by Canes for Veterans Central Texas. With each passing year, the company expects to expand and develop.