Fighting PSTD is often the hardest thing someone will do in their lives. Unfortunately, it’s widespread. In fact, somewhere between 11% to 20% of all veterans suffer some form of PTSD. One of these veterans, Jamie Willis, found something that helped him more than any medicine: carving canes from recycled Christmas trees, for others like him. The process saved not only others, but the Army vet himself from the “brink of suicide.”
The Army Vet Who Up-cycles Christmas Trees
50-year-old Jamie Willis, who served as a cavalry scout, suffered a horrible back injury after an accident in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, during Operation Desert Storm. Following the accident, Willis was briefly paralyzed, and afterward, disabled. Dealing with the pain and recovery left him feeling hopeless and lost. Somehow, the Army vet, who now lives in Copperas Cove, Texas, found the strength to pull through it all.
Willis did not stop at healing himself, however. While healing, he learned a craft, woodcarving. Now, the Army veteran has turned that his new skill into an incredible gift for other veterans like himself. Willis carves canes from recycled Christmas trees, by hand, for other veterans and others who went through a similar journey to his.
“It Brought Me Back”
It all started three years ago. “I went through depression bad. There were times when I almost took my own life. Making the canes actually brought me back from the brink of suicide. I don’t know what it was, but I think this is my actual calling,” Willis told People. He learned the craft from a friend, who also makes canes for veterans for free. Willis loved his new hobby: not only did it help others, but he finds it calming, and it gives him a sense of purpose.
Willis advertises his craftsmanship on Facebook, where anyone can order a cane for free. There’s currently a 400 person waiting list! The Christmas trees and donated or bought with funds donated from around the world. Now, the Army vet has received 1,500 trees!
An Initiative That Went Viral And Touched The Lives Of Hundreds Of Others
So far, Willis has carved 222 canes for veterans and others in need. Now, they can go about life a little bit easier, thanks to the veteran. It takes the veteran a little longer because he always customizes the cane according to the client’s requests, making them even more special. “They are totally custom-made, down to the slightest detail a person wants,” he says.
“It was the ultimate feeling to see the joy in somebody’s else’s face to get just a simple piece of wood so they can put down that ugly metal cane,” the veteran said. “To see them stand proud with it and treat it like a piece of artwork, and for them to almost go into tears because I’d taken the time to make them something for my heart, it meant so much.”
“I Can’t Give Up”
Now, many feel eager to help Willis make as many canes as possible! Monica Garza, a family friend of Willis, immediately felt inspired by the Army vet’s actions. “To help all these people and to see how they are all helping us – it just shows that there is community still. It’s out there. People want to get involved,” says Garza.
Willis, who works from his garage, hopes to expand the business by renting a bigger warehouse, to maximize his efforts. “It’s like I’m overwhelmed with joy and happiness,” Willis shares. “With as much bad as you see going on in the world, I thought that nobody cared about anybody. But this shows me that most people do care about others. With everybody’s outpouring of love to me, I want to do more,” he said. “I’m not going to give up. Now I feel like there are people who are depending on me – so I can’t give up.”
If you’d like to donate to the cause, you can click here. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.