LEE, Maine — A professional guide, Paul House takes visitors to some of the loveliest woods of northern Maine. As a parent who has lost a son to the Iraq War, he can help guide parents through the interminable grief of losing a child.
As the creator of the nonprofit House in the Woods Inc., A Military and Family Retreat, House will do both.
House’s idea drew support Wednesday from Gov. John Baldacci and Wal-mart.
Baldacci told about 25 people who crammed into the small cabin and garage House built on his Lee Road property for the project that he couldn’t imagine a better thing to contribute to.
“Maine is an extended family,” Baldacci said. “We are here to support that family and to help it weather these blows.”
With state Sen. Elizabeth M. Schneider, D-Orono, acting as emcee, Wal-mart Public Affairs and Government Relations Senior Manager Alexander Serra presented the House family with a $10,000 check.
The House family and its friends, the Emery and Severance families of Lee, are “shining examples” of people who are determined to take the most painful of tragedies — the loss of a child — and transform it into something that helps others, Baldacci said.
“They want to improve their lives and the lives of the nation,” said Baldacci, who earlier this summer also donated $10,000 from the governor’s contingency account to House in the Woods Inc.
House’s idea is simple: To help families and veterans overcome their losses through companionship and by exposing them to the outdoors. That includes hunting, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking and bird and moose watching, among other outdoor activities. Though he is no professional counselor, House and the members of other local families know all too well the horror of losing a loved one.
A Lee native, U.S. Army Sgt. Blair William Emery, 24, was killed Nov. 30, 2007, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baqouba, Iraq. His death came slightly more than five months after Sgt. Joel House, 22, was killed June 23 by a bomb in Taji.
After serving two tours in Afghanistan, Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Severance, 24, was murdered in San Angelo, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2005, by his wife, veterinarian Wendi Mae Davidson. She is serving a 25-year sentence.
“The grief of it can come up at any time,” Paul House said. “You cry a lot of tears. It’s not something that everybody understands.”
But the Emerys, Lees and Severances do. That can make a profound difference to someone who has just lost a child, House said.
“If they [clients] don’t want to talk, they don’t have to. If they do, we will listen,” House said. “People are more apt to talk if they know that you’ve been through what they’re going through.”
Many families have need of House in the Woods, said Peter W. Ogden, director of the state’s Division of Veterans Services. About 150,000 veterans live in Maine, he said.
House in the Woods has cabin space on the House property for about a half-dozen people. House eventually hopes to expand the enterprise to include more space. He and his wife, Deana, also seek volunteer guides, hotel and business owners who would like to volunteer services or items to their effort, and donations, she said.
Although they hosted one family last summer, and plan a bird hunt at the end of the month, the Houses don’t see their effort really taking off until next summer. They hope to host five-day visits every other week through the summer months, Deana House said.
“You don’t get to choose what things happen to you, but you do get to choose how you respond to them,” she said. “I would rather have my son back than help a million veterans, but that’s not going to happen, and I know that Joel would be proud of us for this.”
For information, to volunteer or make donations, call Paul House at 570-4806 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.