LEE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – The House in the Woods, a project aimed at providing military veterans a place of refuge, held its grand opening Saturday.
The project has been the work of the House and Emery families after they both lost their sons in the line of duty.
Sgt. Joel House died in June 2007, and Sgt. Blair Emery died just months later in November. Both served in Iraq.
10 years after their deaths, the families were able to open their facility in Lee thanks to a massive outpouring of local support from individuals and companies.
The lodge-style facility has a large gathering space, commercial kitchen, as well as lodging for guests and staff.
Paul and Dee House founded House in the Woods in the hopes of creating a program that would provide military men and women and their families with a place to escape and experience the outdoors.
“I was lost,” Lawrence McManus said. “It eats away at you.”
Lawrence said he was overcome by PTSD after he served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He now credits House in the Woods with saving him and wants to do the same for others.
"You see the smile come on their face and it's the same way with me the smile come on my face and inside,” McManus said.
He now volunteers as a guide for House in the Woods and takes veterans to hunt bear in the acres of forest surrounding the center.
"They don't have to pretend. They can just be,” Dawn McManus said.
She said she is grateful that the place brought her husband back, and hopes it can do the same for others.
"It's a beautiful place and I think it's going to be a big help to a lot of veterans,” she said.
Congressman Bruce Poliquin attended the event, as well as a number of state and local leaders. Poliquin presented an American flag once flown over the nation’s Capitol to the House and Emery families.
"Freedom is not free,” Poliquin said at the ceremony. "We do not have a country without Joel and all these other heroes who have fallen."
McManus said his sacrifice was nothing compared to the reward he now gets helping his fellow warriors find life again.
"They helped me through a hard time in my life and it's still helping me by helping others,” he said.
There are still some finishing touches to put on the building, but they said they hope to have their first large retreat in August.
For more information you can visit their website.