On this Veterans Day, many of us are taking time to thank those who have served. But for a local couple, the day is just like any other
A short drive from downtown Bingham, there’s a place where vets and their families can enjoy the great outdoors. The entrepreneurial endeavors of a local couple have helped hundreds of American heroes over the years. They say their program’s success comes from “veterans helping veterans”.
A unique philosophy guides a hunting lodge like none other. “We don’t offer a handout. You are here to help,” said Bob Howe, owner of the Pine Grove Lodge. He says his efforts are a tribute to military service. “This is a vet helping vet program.” He and Andrea Howe own the Pine Grove Lodge in Pleasant Ridge Plantation. “We’re just regular country folks helping people, that is all.”
His wife Andrea says, “We all have something to give and sometimes we feel that what we have to give is really minor, but it may really touch somebody.”
Their multi-faceted business helps them give back. They make a modest living from the lodge. They also own a snow-shoe making company on site. “All the proceeds from that goes to the program,” said Bob.
The Pine Grove Program is a labor of love for the Howes. Bob and a group of volunteer guides take veterans on an outdoor adventure each week. “You can talk to the other vets about certain things, nobody is going to get mad,” said Carl Pettengill, a military veteran.
Their families are invited too and the entire trip is free. “The mountains, the pine trees, water everywhere, it is just soothing. Maybe that is why a lot of the vets come up here too and they do this program because it soothes you,” said Andrew Koukoulas. He brings his disabled father to the lodge.
No matter how enticing the experience, Bob says, at first, it was a tough sell, “I struggled and struggled to get people to come. They wouldn’t believe it. They say no. It is not for real. Nothing is for free.”
He partner and snowshoe maker David Giampetruzzi said, “They don’t want to participate and be the recipient, but if you call upon them and say geez we need some help, I mean, nothing will stop them.”
Unlike life at home, guests here understand the struggle of returning to civilian life. “A lot of people, they say, well, I know how you feel. You aint got no idea how I feel,” said Pettengill.
Here, no veteran is left behind. “We have a friend that served three terms and in his third term he ended up stepping on an IED. It is just heart-warming to see some place like this for him to go because most people don’t care about you anyway when you come back,” said Jeff Liskowacki.
“It is not about therapy and it is not about counseling and assuming there is a problem,” said Andrea Howe, “It is just a chance for them to relax and get away from it all.”
Their only guarantee is a memorable experience.
“And at the end of every event, we ask them if we have met that objective and not a single person in four years has said no. They say yeah,” said Giampetruzzi.
You don’t have to be a military veteran to visit the lodge. They welcome civilian guests as well. You can find information and pricing at pinegrovelodge.com.
If you are a veteran and would like to know more about their free outdoor adventures, visit pinegroveprogram.com.
If you’d like to support the program through a purchase, their on-site company Maine Guide Snowshoes has plenty of products that you might like. They can be found at mgshowshoes.homestead.com.