Coffee and pastries aren’t the only things on the menu at Dog Tag Bakery.
The Washington, D.C.-based bakery is backed by Dog Tag Inc, an organization that helps unemployed and disabled veterans, spouses and their caregivers learn leadership and business management after returning from combat.
The bakery serves as a classroom for those in the five-month training program. Students in the program study accounting, management, financial management, marketing, entrepreneurship, business policy and communications and earn a Certificate in Business Administration from Georgetown University when the program is completed.
For the month of November, Rare Goes Yellow for a series that honors our veterans. We caught up with Dog Tag Inc. to learn more about what inspired the organization and how they are helping veterans who come back home.
Rare: Why did you start your business? What was the inspiration behind it?
Dog Tag Inc.: Founded by Fr. Rick Curry, SJ and Connie Milstein, Dog Tag Inc. was born out of the shared conviction that no veteran who wants to work and pursue their career goals should be unemployed. Our founders are drawing on their experiences as social innovators and advocates for veterans and persons with disabilities to create a national model to support veterans and their families as they begin a new chapter in their lives. Together, Father Curry and Ms. Milstein are convening educators, experts and leading entrepreneurs to ensure that Dog Tag Inc. is a robust, enriching and sustainable social enterprise that spreads nationwide.
R: What compelled you to serve the veteran, military spouse and caregiver population?
DTI: There are over 2.6 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many returning with injuries or service related disabilities. These injuries include amputations, burns, post-traumatic stress, and severe brain trauma. These visible and invisible wounds require individualized training in specialized classes to ensure efficient reintegration into the civilian workforce.
Today an estimated 1.1 million individuals are caring for post-9/11 veterans in the United States. Of those, 12% of caregivers devote over 40 hours per week providing care, making employment nearly impossible. 43% of military spouses are not in the labor force compared to 25.5% of civilian spouses. Underemployment among military spouses is staggering – the underemployment rate for military spouses is 38% compared to just 6% for civilian spouses with education levels.
It is our belief that transformational change happens when we create a learning space that is safe, supported, yet challenges our Fellows. The three components of the Fellowship program are designed to work together to facilitate this outcome. These components are the academic foundation to provide knowledge of fundamental business concepts; experiential learning by getting hands-on in the various roles at the bakery, providing context for classroom learning; and the learning lab – a place to introduce real world stories from entrepreneurs and thought leaders, targeted learning in concepts that build the soft skills for career success, and workshops and resources to support continued recovery and healing while building skills and practices for self care.
R: What makes a veteran-owned business unique?
DTI: Our Fellowship Program is an innovative five-month training program that holistically fosters the growth of driven, entrepreneurial-minded veterans with service connected disabilities, spouses and caregivers through a world-class education, ample leadership development opportunities, and a personalized and tailored business management program.
By the end of our program, DTI fellows have earned a certificate of Business Administration from Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies. The curriculum consists of seven courses that are tailored to equip our Fellows with the tools they need to successfully launch the next chapter in their professional lives. Courses include accounting, management, communication, marketing, business policy, business finance, and entrepreneurship.
Dog Tag Inc. goes beyond education and job training to ensure our Fellows are fully supported to achieve their goals. A supplemental lecture series is woven into our program featuring speakers that are leaders in their field, including seasoned entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, and CEOs representing the full spectrum of private and public sector opportunities. The lecture series include workshops on personal branding, resume writing, networking, and leadership development. We work to create opportunities with our partner organizations for Fellows to move into leadership positions in their chosen fields.
Dog Tag, Inc.’s co-founder Father Curry always said “no one goes to a bakery to be sad.” Dog Tag Bakery provides our fellows a place to not only learn career and leadership skills but also connect and engage with the greater community by inviting them in. From utilizing and selling products made by local veteran entrepreneurs to opening our space to other veteran service organizations, Dog Tag Bakery connects veterans, military spouse, and caregivers with the greater community every day.
R: Are there specific things you learned from your time working with disabled veterans, military spouses and caregivers that you can apply to business?
DTI: Yes! We have learned that “disability” really means “ability” and that a company can gain incredible resources, assets and skills from their veteran and military employees simply by asking what it is that they need to be successful. It can be as easy as putting dimmers on the light switches and shades on the windows to help those who suffer effects from traumatic brain injuries; it is as simple as having a quiet, safe, health room made available for those who may have PTSD and been triggered, who just need a quiet moment to pull themselves back together. Ability means supporting someone with a disability through simple systems that enable that person to thrive and put their best selves into their job.
R: What’s your favorite part about your business?
DTI: Seeing the individual development and successes of our fellows during and after the DTI Fellowship Program. Some DTI alums have started their own business or non-profits, others have secured stable employment with government and other organizations, and several have pursued post-secondary educational opportunities. No two fellows have the same success story and we celebrate each and every one.
R: What are your greatest challenges?
DTI: Recruiting – connecting with veterans with service-connected disabilities, military spouses, and caretakers. To learn more or apply, please click here. Funding – ensuring we have the resources to continue to grow and enhances our high-touch, high-quality transition program for veterans, military spouses, and caregivers.
To learn more or donate, please visit http://www.dogtaginc.org/make-a-donation/.