An injury ended his military career and led him to a life of creativity and service

November 12, 2018 - 7:07 am
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A Marine Corps veteran from Kansas City is continuing his mission to improve the lives of his comrades with a new venture in the Crossroads Arts District.

Joe Williams is hard at work, turning the space at 514 Southwest Blvd. into a combination cafe and tavern, to provide a place where veterans can congregate and share ideas about making their occupational dreams come true. It began for Joe when he developed a terrible ankle injury in 2008 that ended his military career and left him wondering if he'd ever walk normally again.

"Within a two-year span, I had five major reconstruction surgeries, nine surgeries overall," Joe said. "I had an unlimited prescription to oxycontin and fentanyl, and it made me completely depressed and suicidal."

Joe found a program that helps him and his fellow vets cope with the realities of their injuries, and to find outlets for their creative impulses. Joe realized he had a love of art.

"When I got out in 2011 I was really looking to become an artist, and there wasn't really any resources out there for veterans getting into the art world," Joe said.

Joe found programs that helped him learn how to make and sell his art pieces. He decided to help others find their muses, and he found a lot of folks who needed a hand. He started a program called Operation Art.

"They had physical disabilities, they didn't know how to get into (their chosen fields), or they couldn't afford it, because they were living off their disability," Joe said.

Not everyone has artistic ambitions. Others wanted to learn about a variety of careers and hobbies, including integrated medicine, yoga classes, accupuncture, meditation and horseback riding.

That led to the After Action Network, the second non-profit he's started. The group is refurbishing the space, which they are calling the Garrison Cafe powered by the Roasterie. The facility will include a bar tha will be accessible to people in wheelchairs.

The Garrison Cafe will function like a typical coffee shop until around 4:00 p.m., then it will be available to rent for special events or for open mic presentations for local performers.

"When we're not doing a special event there at night, we'll end up doing local musicians, veteral musicians, standup or poetry," Joe said.

For Joe, the Garrison Cafe is all about veterans and civilians connecting with the goal of benefitting one another. In the near future, he hopes to guide people in vocational training in technical fields, and to connect people with service animals.

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