ROME — Raking leaves and stacking firewood are a sure sign that it’s autumn in New England, but for the hundred or so Maranacook Community High School juniors who took part in Wednesday’s United Way Day of Caring, the work was about a lot more than just sprucing up the yard. It was a chance to give back to the community and, for some, a chance to give back to those who give to the community.

“We try to model behaviors we think are helpful,” said English teacher Paula Weisberger, who was leading a group of 20 students working for the Travis Mills Foundation at the former Elizabeth Arden estate. “Volunteering is a big one.”

The foundation purchased the former beauty magnate’s property in February to convert it into a first-of-its-kind retreat for wounded veterans and their families. When complete, likely sometime in the summer of 2017, the camp will be fully accessible for disabled veterans, and it will offer adaptive recreation activities such as kayaking and canoeing. The foundation is currently raising the nearly $2 million it needs to complete the renovations.

The retreat is the vision of Manchester’s Travis Mills, who started the foundation in 2013 after losing both his arms and legs to an improvised explosive device blast a year earlier in Afghanistan.

Abby Lucas, of Readfield, first heard Mills’ story last year when the veteran visited Maranacook Community High School in Readfield to talk about his experiences. His story was riveting, but it was Mills’ famously upbeat demeanor and sense of humor that stuck with Lucas.

“He’s so cool,” she said, taking a break from stacking firewood. “He’s hilarious.”


The students at the Arden Estate split into two teams. One team worked to improve the entrance to the estate by removing leaves and underbrush and rebuilding a stone wall at the end of the long driveway leading up to the home.

“These guys have become stonemasons in a matter of hours,” substitute teacher Bob Ingalls said. “They’re good. They’re strong.”

The firewood being stacked by Lucas’ team will be used for campfires that Christine Toriello, executive director of the Travis Mills Foundation, said will be vital in the wounded veterans’ emotional recovery. “When those logs are on the campfire, everyone talks,” Toriello said. “A campfire is going to be a critical element.”

The United Way sponsors the yearly Day of Caring by providing tools that the students need for their projects, Weisberger said. Students take on projects in the area, from cleaning up public places to helping elderly people with firewood and yardwork. The students and the staff this year wanted to do something to help the foundation after Mills’ visit to the school last year.

“The kids have been really interested in him,” Weisberger said. “The kids who listened to him were so impressed.”

The service projects are a key part of the students’ education, Weisberger said. Maranacook, unlike many other schools, does not have a community service requirement to graduate, but it does incorporate class projects into the instruction in all four years at the high school.


“You have to build those times into the program to be successful,” Weisberger said. “Any way we can help our community is so important.”

Chaperone Dawn Jacques, whose daughter, Fayth Jacques, was helping remove underbrush at the end of the driveway, said they appreciate the projects because they teach the students to help others. The opportunity to help Mills was particularly meaningful, Jacques said.

“This is the least we can do to help our veterans,” she said.

The sweat was beading on the face of Hayden Elwell, of Readfield, but like others helping out, he was smiling.

“It’s just kind of strenuous,” Elwell said. “When you know you’re doing it for a good cause, it’s not too bad.”

Bailey Stockford, of Mount Vernon, who worked alongside Elwell, predicted the veterans and families who visit the estate will find a place of quiet refuge.


“I think it’s going to be a great place,” Stockford said. “I think it’s going to be beautiful.”

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

After the spa closed in 1970, a couple bought the property, and their son, Stefan Tufano, announced last year he was selling it. The Mills foundation bought the 17 acres for $460,000. The property 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.

Jacques, who lives in Mount Vernon less than a mile from the estate, said she had never seen the property.

“Seeing something be done with such a beautiful piece of property is rewarding for the whole community,” she said.

Olivia Plourde, of Readfield, one of those who met Mills last year, said it was “awesome” to do something to help his foundation and the veterans who will visit the estate.


“I really want to see it when it’s all finished,” she said.

Toriello is hoping to make that happen. The camp is expected to open around the same time that the students who worked on the property Tuesday graduate.

“We want to have them all out for the grand opening,” she said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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