Intended volunteer lands job in wounded veterans retreat
It’s only appropriate the first family to partake in the Travis Mills Foundation’s Veteran Retreat in Rome, Maine enjoys the facilities during the week of the Fourth of July. A former Stanly County resident proudly helped with the opening of the retreat as well as its continued success.
Fresh off its recent groundbreaking the week before, the lakeside retreat will host 56 wounded veterans and their families this summer. All of the veterans staying at the retreat have lost limbs and served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.
The mission of the retreat is to provide them with a relaxing place to stay for a week, free-of-charge and in the company of veterans going through similar recoveries.
The 16-room facility provides a barrier-free vacation with adaptive outdoor recreation and relaxation.
Built in honor and behind the efforts of Travis Mills, an Army staff sergeant who lost all four of his limbs after surviving an explosion in Afghanistan, the 30-year-old veteran chose to ignore self-pity or accept defeat. Instead, through his determination, along with the unconditional love and support of his family, Mills pushed forward to create something greater.
Last September, during the construction phase of the 11,000-square-foot retreat, Brandy Mills Cain (no relation to Travis Mills), a former Stanfield resident and 2007 graduate of West Stanly High School, reached out to Travis Mills in hopes of volunteering.
“I didn’t know anything about swinging a hammer, but I was willing to do it,” Brandy said.
Instead, Brandy hoped to parlay her marketing and fundraising skills into helping the organization. After all, she worked in marketing at L.L. Bean, a mail-order clothing retailer, and had past experience working in professional sports, fertile ground for monetary donations.
“There was a lot of untapped potential,” Brandy said of the budding organization. “I saw gaps and I knew what to do to fix that. I knew I could create opportunities that were not there.”
The wife of a U.S. Army veteran, Brandy said she felt the tug to volunteer on behalf of Travis Mills who had sacrificed so much for his country. She was already residing in Maine while working at L.L. Bean for about 18 months. Volunteering at the retreat would seemingly fill the gaps of her need to help.
Once she called Travis Mills, he assumed she was inquiring about an advertised position at the nonprofit facility.
“I wasn’t looking for a job,” Brandy said. “I had just taken a promotion at L.L. Bean and that was going really well.”
The Travis Mills Foundation’s retreat would not have been possible without the inspiration of its founder. Travis Mills used some of his motivational charisma to persuade Brandy to come aboard.
“Travis is an inspirational person,” Brandy said. “Who wouldn’t want to be around that every day?”
His pitch convinced Brandy that she, too, could make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families.
“I know Chinos don’t change the world,” Brandy said about her former position. “You don’t put on a pair of pants and think this is really going to make my day.”
Today, Brandy wears many hats, overseeing marketing and fundraising for the retreat.
“I can’t believe they pay me to do it,” Brandy said of the satisfaction that comes from her work.
About Travis Mills
While on patrol April 10, 2012, Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills unwittingly dropped his backpack on top of an improvised explosive device (IED) that detonated, causing Mills to lose all four of his limbs.
Today, he travels 165 days a year, delivering motivational speeches. As a quadruple amputee, he proves there’s little he can’t do with his prosthetics, such as skydiving, skiing, mountain biking, navigating lakes, etc., many of the same activities available at the retreat.
The retreat is an extension of Mills’ work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he lifted others’ spirits while recovering from his wounds over a 19-month period.
Mills penned a New York Times best selling novel, “Tough as They Come.”
He is the subject of a documentary, “Travis: A Soldier’s Story.”
About the Travis Mills Foundation’s Veteran Retreat
Mills founded his organization in 2013, raising $2.5 million in cash and in-kind gifts between 2015 and 2016. To date, nearly $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions have gone into the camp, building on a pilot program. Mills hopes to raise enough money to create a permanent endowment.
Formerly the historic Maine Chance Lodge originally built in 1929 for cosmetics pioneer Elizabeth Arden, the property has been renovated to accommodate handicapped veterans.
In addition to the handicapped-accessible lodge, the retreat features lake access, kayaks, bicycles, paddle boards, a movie theater, a children’s play space and other amenities.
For more about the retreat or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.travismills.org.
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