Having worked with children from abusive and traumatic backgrounds for most of his adult life, Dan Mills has certainly seen his share of heartbreak. Kids who have otherwise been forgotten and tossed aside, he has nurtured and cared for and attempted to give some glimmer of hope for a better life.
And to two of them, 16-year-old Sophie and 13-year-old David, he gave the best gift of all – his last name.
“Because of my background in the field of childhood trauma and my partner Keith’s background as a teacher, we felt we would be a good match for these children, and we have been,” says Mills, today a Realtor with the Oldfather Group of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s International Realty in Rehoboth Beach. “Being in a loving and caring environment, they have really thrived and come a very long way in their lives.”
Spending time as a foster parent, as well as being directly involved in adoption agencies in both his native New Jersey, as well as Colorado, Mills has definitely seen his share of success stories. But perhaps the greatest one of all happened in his own home, to his now teenage son.
Not being able to speak as a kindergarten student, young David had many doubters. Many a teacher wondered whether he was in fact “teachable,” and thought he would be left behind as the boys and girls around him thrived and prepared for higher grades and more difficult challenges.
But Mills saw something in David that many did not – he saw promise, he saw hope and he saw a chance to give a struggling young boy a chance at a better life. It took many years of working diligently with his son, many sleepless nights and many days that were challenging to say the least.
But then came the moment the relatively new real estate agent will never forget, on an otherwise uneventful car ride home last year when his son David, not sensing anything monumental was at hand, handed his father a letter written by one of his teachers.
The lifelong childhood trauma advocate immediately pulled over, tears in his eyes, and hugged his bewildered son. It was the very definition of a “proud parent moment.”
“David had been tested at school and we learned that he was being entered into the gifted and talented program,” remembers Mills. “It was really a big moment for me because he had gone from having no chance in life whatsoever to being labeled as a ‘gifted student.’ I just felt like all those years of hard work and parenting were finally paying off.”
Now an avid reader whose favorite subject in school is science, Mills says his son doesn’t really grasp how far he’s come in his young life. But he certainly sees it every day with both of his children, each of whom were admittedly “blank slates” when initially welcomed into his home.
Both children attend the Cape Henlopen School District – Sophie is in high school and David attends middle school. The entire family has found a home in coastal Delaware, where Mills’ real estate career has begun to blossom.
“For two dozen years, I gave back to the community and to the nonprofit world and I just felt like I wanted to get into real estate, which I’ve always had a passion for,” admits Mills. “And being from New Jersey, I wanted to be close to family, but I really love the Delaware beaches and all that it has to offer. I came to Rehoboth many times as a child and Keith and I just knew this is where we wanted to be.”
Mills moved with his family to their home in Lewes nearly two years ago, obtaining his Delaware real estate license shortly thereafter. In September of 2015, he came to work for the Oldfather Group and set up shop in the company’s offices on Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth Beach.
“Dan clearly has a passion for local real estate and has been a great addition to our close-knit team here at the beach,” says Dustin Oldfather, the group’s chief executive. “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship and are happy to have him, his partner and his children as part of the Oldfather Group family.”