With much enthusiasm for the great outdoors, Travis Mills Foundation volunteer and Registered Maine Guide Catherine Gordon shares her love for all things nature with the recalibrated veterans and their families who visit the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. She is dedicated to helping adapt activities so no matter the disability, everyone can participate.
“No matter what they want to do, we are going to find a way for them to do it,” said Catherine, a Bangor, ME, resident.
Catherine started volunteering with TMF the very first week of programing back in 2017, assisting participants and their families to fish on the Retreat’s lakefront property on Long Pond.
“I was so impressed with him,” she added. “His whole outlook on life and everything he [does] for others is inspiring.”
While at a motorcycle ride to raise money for the, at the time, new Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, Catherine was excited and honored to meet Travis for the first time.
“I was very excited to be part of that ride. I was riding with a few of my friends, and we did not know that Travis was going to be there,” she added. “It was a surprise for all of us.”
Catherine was in awe the first time she met Travis and knew she wanted to be part of the incredible Foundation that Travis, his wife Kelsey, and their families were building.
“His joy for life and helping others is contagious.”
Registered Maine Guides are licensed outdoor professionals who are certified to accompany individuals while participating in activities from hiking to fishing, and everything in between. After retiring from teaching high school mathematics, Catherine and a college friend retiring from the military, both earned their Registered Maine Guides licenses in 2016.
“We started this company called Gold Star Outfitters and [we] started doing a program called ‘Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.’”
“[Project Healing Waters] is a national organization with over 200 branches, so no matter what state you’re in, there’s a Project Healing Waters program in your state,” Catherine added.
In each chapter of Project Healing Waters, wounded veterans come together to tie flies and go fishing.
“We have magnetic boards that veterans can tie flies with their prosthetic arms,” Catherine said. “To have that safe space at the Foundation where they can try all these things with everyone else who is like them, so there’s no judgment, is amazing.”
While initially Catherine volunteered in fishing and tying flies, as programming expanded, so did volunteer opportunities.
During winter programming Catherine takes families ice fishing, snowshoeing and even snowmen building.
“Being from Maine, I think everyone knows how to build a snowman,” she said.
In winter 2023, Catherine was building snowmen with a family from Florida when the mom remarked that her children had never built a snowman or seen snow prior to coming to the Retreat. Catherine was overjoyed to be part of what was sure to be a lifelong memory for that family.
“As her kids were out there making snowmen, she looked at me and said, ‘This is a wonderful place, I get to see my kids just be kids.’ That’s what’s so wonderful about the Foundation is that it is for families.”
Catherine is inspired by the families who visit the Retreat.
“They’re willing to try so many activities, even those that may be outside of their comfort zones,” she added..
Catherine also enjoys seeing the connections that recalibrated veterans and their families make with others at the Retreat.
“When [recalibrated veterans and their families] come in and do these activities, they really encourage [each other] and stay in contact,” she said. “There may only be one week in Maine, but it is a lifetime value they get from the Foundation.”
Since volunteering at the Retreat for the past six years, Catherine has formed incredible bonds with fellow volunteers and staff.
“Shout out to all the people who make that week [of programming] look effortless when behind the scenes, it’s a lot of work.”
Catherine has enjoyed her time volunteering with the Travis Mills Foundation and looks forward to more life-changing memories that are made while serving our nation’s heroes and their families.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post 9/11 veterans who experienced life-changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth. Learn more >>>