ROME — The Travis Mills Foundation announced a $4.3 million expansion to its Belgrade Lakes Region retreat Sunday that will allow the foundation to provide services for up to 400 veterans and their families over the next three years.

Expansion plans were formally announced by Executive Director Brandy Cain after an open house at the 20-acre retreat at 1002 Watson Pond Road.

Before and after the announcement, a line of people snaked around a courtyard as dozens waited to take a picture with founder Travis Mills, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant who lost all of his limbs in an explosion while serving in Afghanistan.

The expansion includes a 9,800-square-foot Health and Wellness Center, with a gym and an indoor pool.

The project is scheduled to break ground in 2020 and be completed in 2021. Cain said the gym will give the foundation the ability to increase the number of weeks it operates.

The retreat will be open 21 weeks this year and 30 weeks next year. Cain said she hopes to expand programming to 40 weeks by 2022.

“It’s providing us an opportunity to teach them more skills they can bring home,” she said. “We’re all about teaching adaptive activities, teaching things that will improve the quality of life for you and your family.”

All services and programs are provided at no cost, with about $1,000 being allocated per person for the retreat. Cain said $1.3 million of the project’s cost has already been pledged.

 

World War II Army Air Corps veteran Al Cavanagh, 95, and Barb Sirois are greeted Sunday by Travis Mills, back to camera, during an open house at the Travis Mills Foundation in Rome.

Along with the new gym that will open in 2020, the foundation is launching a pilot program that helps veterans and their families find “their next mission,” such as starting a nonprofit or business, or acquiring new adaptive equipment. Cain said the program hopes to “capitalize on the forward momentum” created by the retreat.

Foundation officials say it will eventually be able to accommodate veteran families year-round and provide additional resources “for their reintegration and recovery.”

Cain said there will be additional focus on supporting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder through a partnership with Boulder Crest Institute for Post Traumatic Growth. She added that 50 percent of people interested in the retreat have post-traumatic stress and previously had to be referred to another service provider.

“It will allow us to provide our solution to that,” Cain said. “It will meet a very big need that the country has and being able to do that in a way that’s authentic to (the foundation).”

Cain said the post-traumatic stress disorder program will be available in 2020.

 

A rendering of the proposed fitness center at the Travis Mills Foundation retreat in Rome.

State Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, who is a military veteran, said Mills was the perfect person to start this program because he knew the veteran support system was lacking a family-based approach.

“He actually had the birds-eye view of what was missing in the system,” Farrin said, adding Mills’ positive attitude makes people want to support his cause financially or with time as a volunteer.

 

Susan Gray has the book “Tough As They Come,” the best-selling Travis Mills memoir, signed by Mills during an open house Sunday at the Travis Mills Foundation in Rome.

Farrin was traveling around the event with combat veteran Nunzio Biondello, 95, of Litchfield, who said he was part of the second wave of soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Biondello said it would be wonderful if the retreat could reach every family who needed it.

“I think (Mills) is great,” Biondello said. “The fact that he is doing this is just amazing.”

Last year, the foundation hosted 84 veteran families at the retreat and planned to expand to 96 this year. Cain hopeful the program by 2022 could support 400 families over more than 40 different programs.

Cain said the foundation has more than 600 volunteers from 34 states that support 10 paid staff members. During a short interview, Mills thanked supporters of his program.

“Because everybody cares, we’re able to do this,” he said. “We appreciate everybody coming out and being a part of this. We’re so grateful and thankful for everyone supporting our mission.”

The foundation made national news after a large donation from a lottery winner last year. In November, Lerynne West, an Iowa woman who was one of two winners of a $687.9 million Powerball jackpot, announced on “Ellen” she would donate $500,000 to the Travis Mills Foundation.

Mills reacted to the donation during a Facebook live video, saying:

“This lovely, amazing lady in Iowa who won the jackpot on the Powerball decided to go on ‘Ellen’ today, not telling any of us, and she donated, live on ‘Ellen,’ $500,000 to the Travis Mills Foundation. That money goes a long way. We’re going to be able to help out so many families. And to that lovely young lady with three beautiful children, we want to say thank you.”

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