By: Ronda Snyder
Maine Journal News was fortunate enough to be invited to tour the Travis Mills Foundation facility on October 19, 2021 along with seven Republican lawmakers.
We were met by John Romac, a volunteer with the Travis Mills Foundation, who gave us a bit of a history lesson on the Arden estate which was purchased by the Travis Mills Foundation in February 2015. The Foundation’s bid was the low bid on the property but the sellers were impressed with Mills’ plans for use of the estate for the Travis Mills Foundation. The estate was rebuilt by Elizabeth Arden in 1929 as her summer home. In 1934, Arden turned the property into Maine Chance Spa which was a destination for the rich and famous such as Ava Gardner and Judy Garland.
Now, the former Arden estate is home to the Travis Mills Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is as follows: “The Travis Mills Foundation supports recalibrated veterans and their families through long-term programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relation. Veteran families who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service to our nation receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation in Maine where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy rest and relaxation in Maine’s outdoors.”
While we were waiting for all lawmakers to meet at 9:30, Romac told us about the Health and Wellness Center being constructed next to the main house. The Wellness Center will contain a pool (along with other therapies) as the swimming season in Maine isn’t as long as the veterans would like. The pool will be used for therapeutic treatments for spinal and other injuries sustained by veterans in service to our country.
As we toured the facility, Romac mentioned that the Mills Foundation opened in 2017. In 2018, it was able to provide 22 weeks dedicated to veterans and their families as well adding weeks for veteran caregiver retreats. By 2020, the Mills Foundation was able to serve veterans for 32 weeks out of the year. Tools employed by the Mills Foundation is the spiritual healing of being in nature and the wilderness, meditation, and yoga, to name a few.
Romac indicated the goal of the Mills Foundation is to offer 42 weeks of vacation retreat to the people it serves. They look to expand the family vacation retreats to 20-25 weeks (which is fantastic for the children of recalibrated veterans as they spend time with other children of veterans who may have the same or similar injuries as their own parents), the caregiver retreats to 5-6 weeks and the Warrior PATHH program to 10-12 weeks. While the family and caregiver retreats are obvious in who they serve, the Warrior PATHH program may not be clear. “Warrior PATHH is the nation’s first-ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth (PTG) in combat veterans and enable these remarkable Warriors to transform times of deep struggle into profound strength and growth. Warrior PATHH is a transformative, lifelong, post-traumatic growth-based training program for combat veterans and first responders. The training begins with a 7-day on-site initiation that is followed by 18 months of training delivered by our instructors through our PATHH platform.”
The guest rooms, the theater room, the kids play room are all fully accessible.
One word that continued to pop up during our tour was “recalibrate” or “recalibration.” Romac, whose knowledge of and passion for the Mills Foundation, was clearly evident from the moment he greeted those of us on the tour, explained how the word recalibrate became important to Travis Mills. After Travis was injured on April 10, 2012, he spent 19 months at Walter Reed Hospital. While Travis was at Walter Reed and coming to terms with his injuries, he was visited by the Disabled Veterans group. The “disabled” terminology didn’t sit well him nor did the term “wounded” when Wounded Warriors visited him at Walter Reed. It wasn’t until his legs healed enough to be fitted with prosthetics that Travis had an epiphany. While the technician was working on the ankle of his prosthetic, Travis was moving around a bit and the tech told Travis to hold still while he recalibrated the ankle part of the prosthetic. That encounter started Travis’ thought process asking “Who am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?” Recalibration means adjust to the situation, retooling either the thought process or the physical equipment and say to yourself “I can do this but I need to recalibrate how to get it done.”
While there are sponsors who are very generous with their support of the Travis Mills Foundation, the other great need for the Foundation are VOLUNTEERS. During the summer, approximately 120 volunteers are needed to support the veterans and their families. During the winter, when the snowbird volunteers go back to warmer climates, the need for volunteers is between 80-100 people. Volunteers help with a variety of jobs: picking up and dropping off families at the airport, help with preparing meals, housekeeping, gardening, help with waterfront and ropes course activities, ice fishing (we Mainers should be great volunteers for this and all other winter activities), and more. This is where the lawmakers came into play. All of them pledged to reach out to their constituents with volunteer information and requests to become a volunteer at the Travis Mills Foundation.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a volunteer, please follow the link below. The application process is easy and quick. It took me less than 5 minutes to fill out a volunteer application and provide references. The great thing about the way the Travis Mills Foundation sets up the volunteer schedule is that once you are approved to be a volunteer, you can navigate to a website link and see what volunteer jobs are needed for a few hours that day, later that week or whenever you have free time. You sign up for a time and day that works for you where you select which volunteer activity you’d like to do. You can access the Volunteer application by clicking here: Get Involved — Travis Mills Foundation.
One other way you can help is by visiting the Travis Mills Foundation Amazon Wish List, which can be found by following this link: Wish List.
I would like to thank Volunteers John Romac and Jacqueline for allowing me the pleasure of touring this wonderful facility and the Republican legislators who invited me to be part of this incredibly moving and informative tour.
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