Family to make island a veterans retreat
STRAFFORD - The Montville family has owned a 10-acre undeveloped island for many years off the shores of Bow Lake.
As Bruce Montville, founder and CEO of LifeWise Community Projects in Hampton, began to learn of the plight of returning veterans - some troubled with traumatic brain injury, physical disabilities or challenged in returning to everyday life - he began envisioning the island as a retreat for those veterans.
He talked to his family and earned its blessing to begin development of a veterans family island retreat.
The idea is still in the planning stages, but already Montville has received buy-in and support from the N.H. State Veterans Committee, local businesses and other volunteer groups.
Landscape architect Jonathan Halle, who designed the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, has agreed to create a conceptual design for the retreat.
LifeWise is the organization behind the successful Wildcat Youth Mentors program, which connects University of New Hampshire students with high school students to help improve dropout rates.
It was through these connections that Montville first started learning more about suicide prevention and the high rates of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder among returning veterans.
"I couldn't help but say, 'these guys need something that they're not getting.' I don't have all the answers, but I have some," Montville said.
His family agreed to dedicate the island property to the retreat.
Montville also hoped for a more visible location near Northwood for a volunteer action center and logistics center for the retreat. He approached Hannaford, and the supermarket chain recently gifted a colonial farmhouse on its property on Route 4 to the organization's use.
He said only time will help the veterans heal from what they have experienced, but he wants to show them appreciation and also give them a chance to just be with their families in a safe, peaceful environment, if only for a short time.
"The idea is to give them a chance to get together, chill out, no pressure and doing everything under the sun to not remind them of military life," Montville said.
Montville's goal is to have the retreat open by the summer of 2014.
The development will keep the island as natural and wild as possible, with platform tents and firepits as opposed to cabins and running water.
"We want this island to continue to look from the outside the way it looks right now," Montville said.
He envisions eight campsites with families coming for free five-day retreats, allowing the organization to serve about 48 families each summer. The site would be open from Memorial Day through mid-September.
There is a similar retreat in Pittsburg near the Canadian border started by Chief Jon Worrall in the summer of 2011, and Montville has also been talking with him to get an idea of how the retreat might work. More information is available at the LifeWise website, www.lifewise-nh.org.