Changing lives, minute by minute: Veterans Watchmaker Initiative plans to expand

Don Morton of Dover works on a watch at the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative in Odessa.

Over time, veterans are able to overcome their issues and get training for job opportunities through a growing program in southern New Castle County - the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative.

Operating out of a converted former rescue squad building that it rents for one dollar a year, the VWI offers free training in watch repair and watchmaking for veterans, some of whom were left disabled or traumatized by their military service.

As its first class prepares to graduate, the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative has plans to build a larger facility on donated land in Middletown. A donation of $30,000 from M&T Bank will go towards creating temporary residential space where veterans would be able to stay free of charge.

Jason Adams of Gumboro, who left the military due to medical issues, said working with tiny watch parts in a quiet environment is just the thing for him.

"You're just lost in it because the only thing you can see, that you're thinking about, is that watch at that time," Adams said.

"Other than the stress from trying to figure out why a watch isn't working, it's a pretty low-stress environment," added Don Morton of Dover, a veteran of the Air Force.

"They can sit there and work on that little movement, get so lost in doing it that all their problems kind of fade away," Veterans Watchmaker Initiative co-founder Sam Cannan said.

Cannan does most of the instructing at the program. The space includes displays of watchmaking memorabilia, timepieces, clocks and other items he hopes to install as a museum in the new space.

"M&T Bank is honored to stand beside organizations supporting our veterans," M&T Delaware regional President Nick Lambrow said. "The training, support and referral services the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative provides disabled veterans are vital to building stronger communities. This program will enable veterans to develop marketable skills that will help them secure jobs with solid wages, creating an opportunity to excel."

"This career, they can make a very professional living doing it," Cannan said.

Giancarlo LaRusso of Ellendale is working on watches during his hours away from his job as a Delaware correctional officer.

"These watches, they pull you in to its nice, tiny little world," LaRusso said. "You're the only one in there. It's you and the watch."