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May 13, 2024

Travis Mills Foundation acquires nearby property to expand support for veterans

four people posing and smiling in front of bushes Photo / Courtesy, Travis Mills Foundation U.S. Army Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Travis Mills, founder of the Travis Mills Foundation, with wife and co-founder Kelsey and their children Chloe and Dax.

The Travis Mills Foundation — a nonprofit that assists post-9/11 veterans injured in active duty or in service to the nation — has purchased a 12-unit multifamily complex across the street from the organization's retreat in Rome, Maine.

The foundation, which is headquartered in Mount Vernon, bought 1023 Watson Pond Road in Rome from Belgrade Apartments LLC in an off-market transaction for an undisclosed price.

The plan is to expand the foundation's Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) program, which trains disabled veterans and first responders.

building in background with lawn and sign in foreground
Photo / Courtesy, Travis Mills Foundation
With the purchase of Derby Estates, across the road from the foundation’s main campus, the plan is to expand the Warrior PATHH program, which assists veterans and first responders.

“This is a long-term plan,” Heather Hemphill, the foundation’s executive director, told Mainebiz. Existing tenants at the complex have until April 2025 to relocate. 

Perfect fit

Ben Spencer of Core Firms and Nick Lucas of the Boulos Co. brokered the transaction.

Called Derby Estates, the complex consists of two buildings on 8.2 acres. Despite not being listed on the market, it received significant interest from multiple investors, said Lucas, who represented the seller.

“The seller’s multifamily portfolio is predominantly in Augusta, and he sold so he could focus on managing his assets there,” Lucas said.

Spencer, who represented the Travis Mills Foundation in the deal, said that, when Lucas contacted him about potential buyers, the foundation immediately came to mind.

“I called them and they were immediately interested,” Spencer said. “They put it under contract shortly thereafter.”

He added, “When it became available it was just a perfect fit.”

Supportive retreat

On April 10, 2012, Travis Mills, a staff sergeant in the 82nd Airborne division of the U.S. Army, was critically injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, losing portions of all four limbs from an improvised explosive device. During his time at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he found that being active was a key part of his physical and mental recovery.

Mills and his wife Kelsey established the foundation in 2013 and began raising funds to establish programs and a retreat that would help disabled veterans overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families and provide rest and relaxation.

In 2017, the foundation opened a retreat on 42 acres at 1002 Watson Pond Road in Rome. The property, overlooking Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes region, once belonged to the cosmetics magnate Elizabeth Arden.

The retreat now consists of nine buildings, including a health and wellness center added in 2022 — a new 9,800-square-foot facility with an indoor pool, massage rooms, fitness rooms and workout equipment that helped the foundation expand programming to 40 weeks per year. 

buildings in background with lawn and sign in foreground
Photo / Courtesy, Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation veterans retreat in Rome opened in 2017 after a $2.5 million renovation.

Veterans and their families receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses-paid, barrier-free experience where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy the Maine outdoors.

Mills, a 2023 Mainebiz Business Leader of the Year honoree, coined the term “recalibrated veteran” in reference to those who had been disabled, and said he didn’t want to be called a “wounded warrior.”

Multifaceted programs

Since 2017, the foundation has served 1,925 veterans and families from throughout the country. The foundation has 25 full-time staffers plus seasonal staff. About a third of full-time staff are veterans. The organization also employs veteran contractors and spouses.

There are seven primary programs: 

  • The year-round Family Program, for the recalibrated veteran, spouse and children, or a guest, is packed with adapted sports and activities, such as kayaking, zoo visits, wheelchair basketball, archery, dog sledding, ice fishing and snowshoeing.
  • Warrior PATHH, offered monthly, is funded by a grant from the Avalon Action Alliance to teach combat veterans and first responders how to “struggle well” and achieve post-traumatic growth. 
  • The Caregiver Program provides programming designed specifically for caregivers of recalibrated veterans to encourage self-care, rest, relaxation and bonding with others in relatable situations. 
  • The Recalibrate Program, new in 2022, capitalizes on a participant’s motivation after attending the retreat by providing financial assistance, goal-setting, and long-term follow-up. This program has provided everything from helping to pave a driveway, provide in-home cleaning services, a computer to help with a home business, an electric bike to help a veteran stay healthy by safely riding to work, and moving expenses for someone who needed a healthier environment.
  • In the Ambassador program, recalibrated veterans who have attended a program at the retreat are selected and trained to represent the foundation at events across the country. Virtual programming, developed in response to the pandemic, continues because the foundation found that interacting with others without the hassle of travel and missing activities, school and work is better for some families. Families receive supplies and spend part of their weekend virtually with the foundation, using the supplies for activities such as arts and crafts, yoga or a cooking class.
  • Offsite Programming, in partnership with the Georgia Aquarium, brings recalibrated veterans to swim with whales and dive with sharks. 

Warrior PATHH 

Warrior PATHH is the nation’s first program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth in combat veterans and first responders, with the goal of transforming times of struggle into strength and growth, according to the foundation’s website. Training begins with a seven-day on-site initiation at retreat followed by 90 days of training delivered by PATHH guides who have completed the programs themselves and are just a bit further along on the path.

group of people standing in circle on paved surface
Photo / Courtesy, Travis Mills Foundation
A group prepares to take part in a labyrinth training module that’s part of the Warrior PATHH program at the Travis Mills Foundation. The program begins with a seven-day training on-site, along with a 90-day virtual follow-up.

Warrior PATHH was developed by the Boulder Crest Foundation, a charity organization headquartered in Bluemont, Va., that develops, studies, delivers sand scales post-traumatic growth-based programs. The nonprofit Avalon Action Alliance facilitates national scaling of the program. 

The Travis Mills Foundation had informally been looking around for property to expand the program. The property across the street provided a great opportunity, said Hemphill.

“We have over 100 people on our waiting list for Warrior PATHH,” Hemphill said. “We’ll have to do renovations to existing buildings and there’s a staff build-up and training that goes along with a whole additional facility.”

The cash purchase of the property allows the foundation to remain debt-free.

“We’re carefully going forward in terms of renovations and updates,” she added.

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