When Ret. Command Sgt Major William ‘Skip’ Bottoms was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, he had a dark view of the future. Now, the man with 40 years of service in the National Guard has eyes filled with excitement, hope and opportunity.
With the help of Build and Learn Inc., a local organization supported by Maury County Veterans Services and two private supporters, Bottoms was the recipient of a new access ramp at the entrance to his Sunnyside home. The new addition will keep him independent and mobile for years to come as he begins to use his new motorized wheelchair.
“Whatever I want to do, I can do it,” Bottoms told The Daily Herald.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a disease of the nervous system that weakens muscles and impacts physical function. Treatment can help, but this condition can’t be cured.
Fewer than 20,000 cases are seen in the United States each year.
As a member of the National Guard, Bottoms served across the country keeping the nation’s military prepared for a potential attack on the United States during the Cold War.
He was also assigned to Germany where he served the 473rd Support Battalion Army National Guard preparing for an invasion from Soviet Union through the Fulda Gap, located on the Hesse-Thuringian border.
During his decades of service, Bottoms achieved the highest rank available to an enlisted man.
“Veterans get into bad situations and they need help,” Bottoms said. “They need someone who can understand their plight. That is really important and that is probably what is missing when you hear criticism of the VA. What it amounts to, is that somebody probably got lost in a crowd somewhere. The veterans need our help and they deserve our help.”
Bottoms says he is very thankful to be given the gift of mobility and independence.
The surrounding region is home to 7,000 veterans and about 300 are regularly served by the Maury County Veterans Services.
“Maury County is a very generous community,” said James Patterson, Maury County’s director of veterans services. “That is why we get so many homeless veterans in this town.”
He says veterans travel from Kentucky and West Tennessee to receive support from the organization.
The project’s materials were purchased by Steve Boshers, a member of Columbia’s City Council and Mike Greene of TriStar Bank, a lifelong friend of Bottoms and also a member of city council.
“Anything that we can do for these veterans is something we need to do,” Boshers said. “The price they paid for us. To know where we are going we need to know where we have been and that is a statement that I keep with me everyday. It was a pleasure to meet Skip. It is a pleasure to be able to get to know him and shake his hand.”
Supplies for the project were purchased at a discounted price through Home Depot.
“This is all about helping a friend,” Greene said. “We are now getting old together, but I am happy to support an old school buddy.”
Bottoms is the latest person in Columbia to benefit from Build and Learn, Inc., an organization which operates to help veterans and disadvantaged citizens in need while simultaneously providing job training for those seeking employment.
The organization is run by Quinton Jones.
The courses offered by Build and Learn range from general maintenance to heavy equipment operations. The 12-week-long lessons teach groups ranging in size from four to eight students.
For Bottoms’ ramp, two students participated on the project learning the geometric challenges of building the ramp in a set space using planes and slopes.
“As a fellow veteran it feels wonderful to be in a position to help out,” Jones said. “It is getting tougher to do jobs like this but I am glad that we were able to put it together.”
Jones is a former project developer for general contractor Hood Company, LLC and spent much of his time building low-income housing in Nashville. He is also a former director of the Middle Tennessee Diversity Contractors Association. The Nashville-based organization consists of 150 members.
“The organization is evolving with the times,” Jones said. “Now, everyone can find a job so we are moving the initiative more toward social justice.”
An educator at heart, Jones previously held a career as a middle school teacher and librarian.
“We want to bring attention to the disparities in society and try to provide help for individuals who can’t help themselves,” Jones said. “We get referrals from churches, the barbershop to local representatives.”
Build and Learn typically conducts two projects every month.
The organization recently received a $5,000 grant from the National Football League to support social justice in Middle Tennessee.
The grant is supported by former NFL player John Pointer.
“Just as there are concerns about some NFL players wanting to bring more attention to the issues of social justice of this nation, this newly created NFL social justice grant offers an opportunity for current and former NFL players to identify their favorite non-profit organization that is truly making a difference in the community,” Pointer said in a recent statement.
Pointer is a graduate and former linebacker at Vanderbilt University. He currently serves on the Tennessee Advisory Committee of the US Civil Rights Commission.
Jones says the grant gives Build and Learn the ability to help people with a variety of challenges.
To contact Build and Learn, visit http://buildlearn.org/ or email email@example.com.