JONI AVERILL

Military Retreat Launches National “Change for Veterans and Their Families” Fundraiser

Posted May 20, 2011, at 5:08 p.m.

Last April I wrote about the wonderful effort of four Gold Star parents and the family and friends of two Maine soldiers from Lee who were killed in action within months of each other in 2007 in Iraq to find a way to help deal with the loss of these very special young men.

The deaths of Sgt. Joel House, 22, son of Maine Master Guide Paul and Deanna House, and Sgt. Blair Emery, son of Bill and Quie Emery, were a tragedy no family, nor residents of such a small community, should have to bear, but these caring people have turned their sorrow into an opportunity to help not only veterans who have given so much of themselves to their country, but their survivors as well.

Under Paul’s leadership, House in the Woods Inc., A Military and Family Retreat, was created in 2008 and has since obtained its 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Located in Lee but encompassing other areas of Maine and beyond, the program offers veterans and their families outdoor experiences that include numerous adventures from canoeing and hiking to bear hunting and ice and open water fishing.

The only cost for participants, whether the person is a veteran or a survivor, is travel expenses to get to the site and then, if needed, license fees. Food, lodging and all other expenses are covered by House in the Woods Inc.

In the April column, Paul spoke of the camaraderie these experiences generate not only for the veterans, but those who lead and guide them and the comfort level veterans find with each other.

Money to support this program comes from a variety of fundraisers, including those conducted by others on behalf of House in the Woods Inc., and now Paul has come up with another idea he hopes will take off and help with expenses so that, one day, the whole program, including transportation and licenses, can be free for anyone who wants to participate.

Paul emailed this week that he is launching a national fundraiser he is calling, most appropriately, “Change for Veterans and Their Families.”

Paul’s idea is to make good use of your loose change.

“I’ve been trying to think of different ways of doing this,” he said of generating more money for the project. “And you know how you get an idea sometimes; you’re just bopping along and all of a sudden it hits you.”

Paul is asking anyone who has spare change kicking around to turn that change into cash in the form of bills or a check and mail it to House in the Woods, Military and Family Retreat, 2819 Lee Rd., Lee 04455.

Think about the good your spare change could do in helping veterans, survivors and families heal.

Interestingly, one of Paul’s friends informed him he liked the idea so much he was putting out a donation jar at his business in Lincoln and would send those donations to House in the Woods.

Paul really appreciates that, he said, and would appreciate anyone else doing something similar, but he wants you to know if you do put out a donation jar to collect spare change, you would be responsible for getting that money to him.

“I just don’t have the manpower to go and collect” those donations, he said.

In the meantime, others are doing their part to help support House in the Woods.

If you are a bass fisherman who likes competition, you’ll be interested in knowing that Outcasts Bass Club, based in Penobscot County, is hosting a bass fishing contest Sunday, July 17, at Sebasticook Lake in Newport.

For complete details, call Jeremy Von Oesen at 649-3665.

“Any boats can enter,” Paul said. “You don’t have to be a member of the military or anything.”

Recent House in the Woods activities included a turkey hunt for four veterans and their young sons hosted by Aaron Graves in Newport with help from Dean Smith of Dixmont.

“Everyone had a great time,” Paul said. “The camaraderie is incredible. It’s really special.”

As you read this, Paul and Deanna are at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, providing information about House in the Woods for military families attending the Maine Army National Guard 1136th 60-Day Yellow Ribbon Program.

And next month through a series of coincidences in which Paul’s daughter made contact with Angel Flight Northeast co-founder Larry Camerlin of Massachusetts, Paul told me he will be flying out June 1 from Bangor International Airport with four veterans for a fishing trip to Lake Ontario, courtesy of an Angel Flight program known as Veterans Angel Flight.

According to the Angel Flight website, the mission of this program is “to ensure that no financially-needy veteran/active duty military person or their family member(s) is denied access to distant, specialized, medical evaluation, diagnosis, treatment or rehabilitation for lack of a means of long-distance commercial airline transportation.”

Paul said he was thrilled to have made that connection with Larry, who helped make this trip possible.

For more information about House in the Woods, visit houseinthewoods.org; call Paul at 570-4806 or 738-4421; or email him at me_guide@hotmail.com.

He would be very happy to hear from you.

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