TMF Ambassador Teaches Leather Working at Retreat

Travis Mills Foundation Ambassador, SSG (Ret.) Richard ‘Rick’ Elder served in the United States Army for 16 years as an Armament/Electrical/Avionics Repairer. In 2017, he was involved in an airborne accident while participating in a training jump. 

Rick landed on his neck upon impact, later learning he sustained a broken C-1 and a compounded cervical spine. He also sustained a brain injury and injuries to his left shoulder – leaving him with limited range of motion.

Learn more about Rick here >>>

Learning Leatherworking

After medically retiring in 2019 from the U.S. Army, Rick and his wife decided to move to Augusta, Maine. Prior to moving to Maine, Rick enjoyed the hobby of making knives.

“I was bored,” Rick said when asked about how he began leatherworking.
While waiting for his household goods to be delivered to the new Elder residence in Maine, Rick did not have knife-making supplies handy. However, there is a leather manufacturer in Hartland, Maine, that he decided to visit.

“I might as well go and check them out,” Rick said. “[I grabbed] a few scraps of leather and [tried] figuring something out.”

With his knife-making skills, Rick figured that he would begin to create leather sheaths, rather than the plastic ones he had been using. 

“This is less impact on my back,” Rick said. “So it snowballed from there to making purses, backpacks, and other things like that. I find it fun.”

A number of post-911 recalibrated veterans struggle to find hobbies and activities that are not as strenuous on their injuries. In Rick’s case, he wanted to find something that would not have much impact on his back.

Getting Involved with TMF

Upon moving to Maine, Rick’s wife began teaching at a school in Hallowell, the same school where former Program Coordinator Assistant Megan Cormier was teaching. After hearing more about Rick’s service, Megan encouraged the couple to look at opportunities offered by TMF at an Open House in Fall 2019.

“I thought it was a really cool organization,” Rick said and soon began volunteering with the Foundation. “I’m very limited in what I can do with my neck issues, so it was more of, let me cook some meals and interact with veterans as well.”

In early 2020, Rick was honored to be part of the inaugural Warrior PATHH class that was offered at the Foundation. 

Warrior PATHH is the nation’s first-ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) in combat veterans and first responders, and enables remarkable Warriors to transform times of deep struggle into profound strength and growth. Warrior PATHH is a transformative, lifelong, post-traumatic growth-based training program for combat veterans and first responders. The training begins with a 7-day on-site initiation at the Travis Mills Foundation that is followed by 90 days of training delivered by PATHH Guides, not clinicians, who have all completed the programs themselves and are just a bit further on the path.

Finding Warrior PATHH very beneficial for himself, Rick encourages other veterans and first responders to apply for the program to begin Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG).

“Even if you think you’re fine, you will find something beneficial out of the program that you may have not even thought of, so why not give it a shot?” he said.

Rick found a significant boost in his mental health after attending Warrior PATHH and has a better outlook on life. However, he realized this was just the “first step” and that it is not the “end-all-be-all.” There was still work to be done.

Rick encourages a three-step approach to veterans and first responders who are ready to experience PTG:

  1. Apply to and attend Warrior PATHH at one of the 10 locations across the country where the program is provided.
  2. Find a hobby that uses hand eye coordination to increase engagement.
  3. Volunteer somewhere where there are other veterans, where you can make a difference.

“It wasn’t until October [2022] when [the late Vice President of Programming] Kelly [Roseberry] came up with the idea,” Rick said. “I’d been doing leatherworking and found some benefits from working with it, so maybe other [recalibrated] veterans would be able to as well.”

Rick began teaching leatherworking to the post-911 recalibrated veterans and their families who come through the Retreat doors, encouraging them to try it and see firsthand how it may positively impact them and their families.

“Something simple, really easy to work with, key chains, that [recalibrated veterans] make,” he said. “[The idea is] to be able to introduce veterans and their families to a hobby that is low impact, low cost, that they can generally take and introduce to their families.”

“I feel like everybody, every person, should craft something,” Rick said. “And I feel like veterans get an added benefit. You get like a mind blank where you’re not thinking about bad stuff or worries. You can just zone out and find a proper mental space.”

This helps the veterans served at TMF feel as if they are able to be productive, despite the injuries and challenges they may face on a daily basis.

“I’m still contributing to my family, it is not a big thing, but it gets me in that positive mindset. And that’s the whole idea: To get people into a more positive mindset.”

Apply for Warrior PATHH here >>> 

Great Story Works

Rick’s positive mindset led him to developing, Great Story Works, a small leatherworking business located in Augusta, Maine.

Rick found inspiration for the name of his business from his brothers in arms.

“They were ribbing me for my ability to prolong a story and add embellishments into certain aspects,” Rick said. “The idea was, ‘Great Story, Rick.’ So instead of taking the ribbing, I just leaned into it.”

While on a deployment, Rick had a local national make velcro patches to place on their uniforms to hand out to those he served with.

When Rick arrived in Maine he found that he was quite productive in his leatherworking craft, He came across one of those patches and figured, why not lean into this again?

And there birthed Great Story Works. 

Rick now crafts many different leather products, including keychains, purses, wallets, and even materials for fire departments such as radio straps, harnesses, and more. 

“The idea is that you can write your own story with one of the products you purchase from me, or that we help create together,” Rick said. “Everyday I get to write a great story for those that can’t be here and if I can help other people write a great story as well, or at least start a story, I feel like that’s what I can do and that’s where I can help.”

Learn more about TMF Programming here >>>

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 >>>