Executive Director Heather Hemphill came to the Travis Mills Foundation from the corporate, for-profit world of finance. She took the non-traditional route of a college education, originally majoring in mathematics and secondary education. As she began working in a small business, she realized that she enjoyed the hands-on part of accounting, she decided to shift her major to accounting and finance, eventually graduating with a BS in Accounting from Southern New Hampshire University.
During her time in college, Heather co-managed a small automotive shop, rolling up her sleeves in full understanding that she needed to do what was necessary to make it a success. And a success it was; by the time she left her position there, it had grown into a booming business with multiple employees.
Once graduated, she secured a job as a project accountant at TRC Companies Inc., an international consulting, engineering and construction management firm based in the U.S. Heather was quickly promoted to financial analyst and enjoyed working on the project management side of the company. From reading contracts to audits, to financial project management assistance, her rise in the ranks allowed her the diverse portfolio she has now.
She has also prepared private income taxes for the last five years under the guidance and expertise of Strout Associates.
With this broad range of skill sets, a position at the Travis Mills Foundation seemed like a good fit. She was aware of who SSG Travis Mills was, but she didn’t become closely familiar with the Foundation until she was invited to become part of the team.
“The more I learned about it, the more I loved it,” she said.
Her husband is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 2005 to 2010, completing two tours in Iraq and one in the Philippines.
“He’s very private about his military service,” Heather said, adding that they weren’t together during that time. “He loves that he served, he’s incredibly proud of it, he just doesn’t feel he deserves any special recognition for it. But when this position came up, he was a huge advocate for me joining the team.”
Heather’s own service to veterans through her role at the Foundation has opened up many conversations in their household.
“It helps me to understand him,” she said.
The couple attended a Foundation event in Ocala, Florida, where Tory’s sergeant major was also in attendance.
“He was really excited,” she said. “And it was really neat for me to gain the understanding of how important a role this person had in his life during service.”
As CFO, Heather doesn’t often get the opportunity be on-site at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, but that’s OK, she says.
“I know how important the work is on the administrative side of the organization,” she said. “I don’t get to be on the ropes course or take veteran families for boat rides, but I can ensure that we are good stewards of the generous donations we receive, and I’m happy to serve that way.”
Heather looks forward to the shift the organization will make in 2022 from a seasonal facility to offering year-round programming with its new Health and Wellness Center.
“It will help us mature as an organization,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of growth in a short amount of time. I’m looking forward to focusing on being the best at what we do.”
Heather isn’t surprised that she made the jump to the non-profit world – she comes from a family of civil servants. Her father was a career firefighter/paramedic in Portland, Maine, for 25 years and her grandfather was the fire chief in Litchfield, Maine, for more than 30 years and with the department for more than 50 years. With Heather’s mother also on the fire department for a period, as well as many other family members, it’s not a surprise that much of Heather’s childhood was spent helping others. She even followed in their footsteps by becoming a member of the fire departments in Litchfield and Vassalboro, Maine.
Besides service to others, she’s passionate about horses, another hobby she inherited from her parents.
“I don’t remember the first time I rode a horse,” she said. “They’ve just always been there.”
Her husband also shares Heather’s enthusiasm for these gentle giants and on the weekends they, along with their children, Maverick and Maggie, can be found running their farm, caring for their own horses, Rusty and Dolly, or at horse shows and participating in competitions.
The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers equine programming and Heather can easily understand why this is a much loved and rewarding program for recalibrated veterans and their families.
“Horses are some of the most therapeutic animals,” she said. “They’re so big but so gentle, quiet and comforting – you can really connect with them.”
Physically, equine therapy is extremely beneficial, she said.
Heather worked at a barn that offered such programming and will never forget two sisters with cerebral palsy who benefitted from riding.
“Neither could walk or talk,” she said. “By the end of their rides, they were able to stretch out their limbs and relax. They smiled and laughed, too. It was amazing.”