Volunteers build wheelchair ramp, art studio for Blount County veteran


GREENBACK (WATE) – A group of volunteers skipped office meetings and emails Friday morning for a construction site. They helped out the Rebuilding Together Knoxville organization to construct a wheelchair ramp and art studio for a Blount County Navy veteran.

Friday’s build was the 22nd for the organization and one of their biggest. Navy veteran Jessica Callihan says it’s made such a positive impact on her life that she hopes to share it with other veterans in the region.

There was non-stop buzzing and banging at Callihan’s home on Friday. It was being turned upside down, but for good reason.

“Stairs are my worst enemy. I hate them. It makes me sick to my stomach every time I see them,” she said.

The young Navy veteran fell during a training exercise years ago. Callihan says her injuries were so severe, they ended her career serving our country. After a number of surgeries, she’s lost feeling down the outside of her leg and has permanent nerve damage.

“My knee has given out numerous times. I don’t have the muscles and ligaments correctly built in there and so I’ve fallen down a lot,” said Callihan.

Painting and creating have been her solace, helping Callihan heal. That’s why volunteers with Scripps Networks Interactive put together an art studio and a wheelchair ramp outside her home.

“It’s been a real joy and we’re getting a lot done,” said Chris Bieger with Rebuilding Together Knoxville.

All the materials and labor to build both have been donated.

“There are a lot of people who’ve never used a drill before and they’re jamming on the wheelchair ramp,” said Bieger.

The art studio is a place for Callihan to create and feel safe.

“This is such a huge blessing and I realize art can really heal someone the way it’s healed me. And so I want to open it up to disabled veterans and teach them how to create art,” said Callihan.

Watching this dream become a reality, Callihan says she’s finding hope and her barriers no longer exist. “I’m so grateful to everyone who’s donated the money, the time. I can’t tell you how big of a difference this is making in my life.”

Rebuilding Together Knoxville plans on pouring a driveway for Callihan and the entire project will take a few more weeks to complete.

If you’re interested in taking a look at her artwork, you can visit her website by clicking here.

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