Renovations are underway to turn beauty magnate Elizabeth Arden’s former estate and spa in Mount Vernon and Rome into a retreat for disabled and wounded veterans and their families.

The Travis Mills Foundation bought the property in February and plans to begin hosting veterans in the summer of 2017.

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who founded the organization after losing parts of both his arms and legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2012, told Augusta area business leaders at a local chamber breakfast Wednesday morning that the purpose of the retreat is to give veterans like him and their families a place to go.

The facility will be the first fully accessible camp for disabled veterans, and it will offer adaptive recreation activities such as kayaking and canoing, he said. Mills said one of the worst things about losing his arms and legs has been having to watch his family do things he no longer can do.

“We’re going to have them come up, show them a great time and show they can still do things with their families,” he said at the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Senator Inn & Spa.

The 17 acres purchased by the foundation for $460,000 includes a main house, stables, groundskeeper’s quarters and chauffeur’s quarters, which are all in Rome. Part of the front lawn and a lakefront parcel across Castle Island Road are in Mount Vernon. The foundation held a groundbreaking ceremony and began ripping out floorboards last week, Mills said.

The camp, which will be free for veterans and their families, will be open during the summer. Six to 10 families will stay each week and will be able to connect with other veterans who are also disabled, said Mills, who lives in Manchester with his wife and daughter.

“Just show them that they’re not alone,” he said. “There’s a network out there, and you can still be successful and do things in your life.”

Mills’ foundation is looking to raise $2.2 million to fund the renovation phase, including the loan to buy the property, said Christine Toriello, executive director of the Travis Mills Foundation. So far, the foundation has raised around $350,000 to $400,000, she said. The foundation also will need to raise additional money in the future to continue running the programs at the camp, she said.

The foundation largely is using local contractors for the renovation work, and some have donated supplies for the project, Toriello said. Besides soliciting financial donations, she said, the organization is open to in-kind work and still needs building supplies, including lumber, drywall and lighting. She said the organization hopes a company can provide the “smart home” features planned for the buildings.

The buildings on the property, although deteriorated in some places, are still in great shape, she said.

Arden, the Canadian founder of the eponymous cosmetics company, who died in 1966, built a summer house on the property in the 1920s before establishing the Maine Chance Spa. The spa operated from 1934 to 1970 and once consisted of 1,200 acres.

The Travis Mills Foundation’s first priority will be serving veterans who have lost limbs in combat, like Mills, or have other disabilities, and their families; but Toriello said the organization hopes eventually to open up the camp to all veterans.

“This is still first and foremost a gift from Maine to our nation’s veterans,” Toriello said.

Mills, while speaking on Wednesday at the breakfast, described his injury and what led him to start the foundation, including anecdotes from his recovery. He is one of only five quadruple amputees from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries, according to the foundation.

Two months after an improvised explosive device took parts of his arms and legs, Mills said he finally could walk again with two short prosthetic legs. After being told he would be able only to walk one lap, maybe, he walked three laps that day. So the next day, when his father visited, Mills excitedly told him he was going to walk five laps.

“I walked half a lap and my muscles seized up real bad, cramped, and I fell over, and I couldn’t walk anymore. It was a rough day,” Mills told the audience Wednesday. “That’s where I had to understand that failure was going to be a part of my life, but just never give up on my self.”

Withins months of the injury, Mills walked a 5-kilometer race held in New York City in honor of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter killed in the rescue efforts during the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center.

In his presentation, Mills highlighted a couple of veterans he knew who were killed during their deployments. Every day, he said, he wakes up thankful because of the soldiers who died while serving the country.

“They keep me going,” Mills said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t take every day as a blessing.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

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