VIDEO: The time has come for disabled veterans in Delaware

 

Few individuals have the skills to get clocks no longer going tick tock up and running again. Those that fall silent sit in cardboard boxes--until disabled veterans, under the watchful eye of Sam Cannan, give them new life.

"For a lot of these guys and gals, this has been the only thing that's kept them going," said Cannan.

His program for injured vets has kept Cannan going too. The retired Baltimore police officer turned to Bulovas, and is now one of few watchmakers left in the country. He wanted to pass along his skills to others who can use them--and who need them.

Sam Cannan will teacher disabled veterans how to repair watches. (Amy Cherry/WDEL)

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"It's nice to be a part of something that's larger than yourself," he said. "Watchmaking has been very good to me, and this is my way of giving back."

It's taken four years, but his Veterans Watchmaker Initiative finally has a place to call home after bouncing around from state to state searching for the right location.

For $1, he's been gifted an abandoned paramedics station along Route 13 in Odessa from New Castle County. For the decade.

After a little more sprucing up, a fresh coat of paint and new floors, and Cannan's classroom will be up and running in the New Year. Inside, he'll teach disabled vets jewelry and watch repair--using thousands of donated wristwatches and clocks.

New Castle County donated an old paramedics station to the VWI. (Amy Cherry/WDEL)

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A small class of a dozen disabled veterans will kick off Cannan's program, though there are 300 more on the waiting list. The small starter school will be part of a much larger plan to build a full-size, multi-million-dollar watchmaking school, service center, and residence in Middletown, where veterans can come from all over the country for apprenticeships. Veterans who have currently traveled from afar to take Cannan's free class will be housed, free of charge, at the Middletown site.

"(It is sometimes) the first time since that instant where they were injured, that they can actually be in control of their lives again; they have flexibility; they have something else that someone is willing to pay for--a level of training that will literally give them the keys to go anywhere in the world and do this," he said.

Old donated watch parts will help Cannan in his class. (Amy Cherry/WDEL)

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Watchmakers and repairmen are in high-demand, according to Cannan, who said there are thousands of openings around the country which can't be filled--and even more watches in need of more than just winding to work again.

"(There are) a little over 4,000 openings--depending on regions anywhere from $65,000- to $85,000-a-year starting salaries--they'll move you if they like what they see," he said.

In addition to the school, Cannan said they'll have an artisan shop and small museum.

"They'll be creating watches from scratch--mechanical watches--and that's not done very often any more," he said. "Once they customize one particular watch that they'll own forever, it's like a cherished piece that's by their heart for the rest of their lives--and they'll look to that--and that'll be the symbol of the change in their life."

For Cannan, this is less about building a skill set--and more about building self-esteem and a sense of purpose for people who deserve to feel proud.

"When you were first trained in boot camp, you were taught that you were indestructible--and you were, up until the moment that you were hurt," he said. "But the other part that's been forgotten since the injuries is that you're a highly elite special cadre of people, and once you graduate from this school, you reenter that realm."

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Contact Amy Cherry at acherry@wdel.com or on Twitter

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