by Bridget Kulla
Photos courtesy of Wayfair and Erin Little Photography.
Despite losing portions of both arms and legs from an IED while on active duty in Afghanistan, retired United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne is not slowing down. A year later, in September 2013, Travis founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization, formed to benefit and assist combat-injured veterans. And four years after that, he opened the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in Rome, Maine, an 11,000-square foot space on 17 acres, aimed at helping combat-injured veterans and their families. We spoke to Travis Mills about his passion to support veterans, his favorite parts of the national retreat and the mantra that goes through his mind daily, “Never give up. Never quit.”
Can you tell me more about the Travis Mills Foundation and why it is important to you?
“When I was blown up, I wasn't the only one affected. My family was a big part of my recovery process. At the hospital, I got to go on trips to do adaptive sports. I got to take my wife because I needed a non-medical assistant, but some of the other service members did not. I wanted to create a place where we can help my fellow recalibrated veterans feel comfortable and confident alongside others who know what it means to sacrifice and serve for our country.”
Why was it important to open the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat?
“To date, we have served 84 veterans and their families from 28 states. It was important to open this place because there aren't many opportunities for veterans to connect and heal with one another like this. We're filling a need in the veteran community, and I get to meet others who also know my challenges. We're bridging a gap that veterans need.”
What is one of your favorite parts of the space?
“The dining room—being able to eat together and share a meal together is something that veterans are used to, and we're glad to provide that farm to table experience for veterans.”
You chose to install Hardie® siding and trim on all of the retreat exteriors. Were there any aspects of the James Hardie brand products that felt important for the look of the space?
“We wanted something that was long-lasting, classic New England style (which we achieved with the straight edge HardieShingle® siding), and easy to install. We wanted a clean, sophisticated look in a classic color and we got that with James Hardie.”
Were there any hurdles when creating the retreat space?
“Accessibility was a big thing for me. I wanted to make sure that we had no barriers getting around the retreat: no matter the veteran's abilities. We have made everything accessible for those in wheelchairs and on prosthetic legs.”
Do you reside close to the retreat? Are you there often?
“17 miles away. I make sure to personally visit all 8 families who attend each week.”
Can you describe to me an average day for you?
“My average day is really like anybody else's: I just have the added step of getting my legs on. I spend time with my family, I take my daughter to school, and I run a small business with my friend Zach (lakesidelodging.com). I'll go to the Travis Mills Foundation office, or if veterans are there, I'm at the retreat. Sometimes I'm traveling on the road as a motivational speaker. My favorite part of the day is just meeting proud Americans who want to make a difference.”
Do you have any words of wisdom to share?
“You can't always control your situation, but you can control your attitude.”
Are there any projects or parts of the retreat/foundation you’re looking forward to in the future?
“Hopefully (fingers crossed if you've got 'em), we're planning to start work on a multi-purpose building, fitness center, and offices in the next year or two. We need room to spread out at the retreat, and we're looking for additional programs to add. We have 128 veteran families coming in 2018, and we're only growing from there. My wife and I had our son, Dax, back in August, and he's almost 1 year old. Life is good.”
- 8-suite style bedrooms for hosting 8 veteran families per week (up to 35 people per week)
- Full handicap accessibility
- Apartment for 4 staff personnel
- Hardie® siding and trim
- Restored barn for equipment storage
- Movie theater with support from Bose & Lovesac
- Library with support from The Barbara Bush Foundation
- Children’s playroom
- Spa room
- Formal living room
- Dining room
- Commercial Kitchen
- Two stone patios (front & rear)
- Disc golf course
- Walk-in refrigerator
- Laundry, staff area, and dry storage