CHELSEA — Volunteers of America got another boost Thursday when the group received several gifts from Dead River Co. to help support the Cabin in the Woods housing program for homeless veterans, a project that’s scheduled to be complete and ready for residents in about five months.

The gifts — a $5,000 check, a free propane tank fill-up for every new resident and $100 L.L. Bean gift cards for new residents — were presented to Terry Baldwin, the chief operating officer of Volunteers of America Northern New England, by Dead River sales director Jeffrey Roth.

The Cabin in the Woods program will provide 21 cabins at an 11-acre wooded site on the grounds of the VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus in Chelsea. The organization secured a 75-year lease for the property in 2009 and has worked to raise about $4 million for construction over the last seven years.

Baldwin said the organization had hoped to open the cabins in December, but construction workers encountered ledge underground and hazardous weather that led to a delay. She expects the first residents to move into the cabins in June.

“It’s moving really quickly,” Baldwin said. “It’s coming up fast.”

The grounds off South Gate Road have cabins in various stages of construction. Before the presentation, the group toured a two-bedroom cabin in which all the wood framing is complete. There were various wires and other construction materials inside the cabin, and it will be one of the first cabins to be occupied when construction is finished.


Roth said about 10 percent of Dead River employees are veterans, and the company is looking to connect with veterans’ organizations in Maine to hire even more. He said being a part of this project fits the company’s core values.

“We think there’s a great alignment between what we need and (veterans’) skill sets,” Roth said. “We’re trying to build relationships to hire more, because that’s our goal.”

There are 16 one-bedroom cabins and five two-bedroom units that will be open to single veterans or veterans with families and children. They all will share a similar design and furnishings because of the ease in providing the same services to everyone, said Michael Merrill, the program manager who will oversee Cabin in the Woods.

The volunteers group has begun thinking about who will have the opportunity to live in the cabins, and there will be 16 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program vouchers funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that will help veterans pay rent for the cabins.

One of the good things about the program is that children will be able to live with their parents or guardians in the cabins, something that isn’t always the case at homeless shelters or other facilities, said Michael Coon, vice president of external relations for Volunteers of America Northern New England.

For veterans who are homeless and need something positive to get their lives on track, Coon said, this arrangement is important. Also, having a permanent address gives people access to certain services they wouldn’t have without a home of their own.


“It’s going to be a great tranquil setting, close to the services they need, and where they’re more comfortable,” Coons said.

The volunteers group will impose its own rules on their tenants. No weapons will be allowed in the cabins, and the campus will be alcohol-free. There will be a 22nd cabin, which will be used by VOA staff, and an employee always will be on the site.

The community cabin is in the center of the complex and will offer a space for residents to meet with VA and VOA officials, counselors and other residents in a casual setting.

The program, which has been in the works for more than seven years, got a $100,000 grant from TD Bank in December 2016 that is being used to help bring high-speed internet and cable television to the cabins. The wooded location makes it costlier to bring those services to the residents, but Browning said they want people to have access to all the services they would receive in an urban setting.

Volunteers of America has received support from corporate and individual donors, but Baldwin said there is still fundraising to be done because the project still has more needs.

“We have some grants helping with some of the furnishings, but we are absolutely still looking for stuff,” she said. “There’s still work we have to do.”


Coons said the organization is selling commemorative bricks and benches to help fill a $300,000 funding gap. He said the group also is looking for any help anyone is willing to provide.

“Landscaping is always a big concern, because we know we can always fund the building, but making it look like a wonderful home is hard,” Coon said.

The Cabin in the Woods program is different from others in Maine because it is meant to provide permanent housing, rather than offer a transitional space for residents until they can find a place to live on their own. Some of the residents will come from transitional homes and shelters, while others will be living in temporary housing.

“Our hope is that once they come here, this is where they’ll always call home,” Morrill said. “We don’t want this be a transitional model.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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