Shifting from a military mindset and environment to a civilian workforce isn’t always easy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for all non-disabled and disabled veterans that actively served in the U.S. Armed Forces rose to 6.5 percent in 2020.
May is National Military Appreciation Month (NMAM), a time to acknowledge the sacrifices made by service members and lend support to the organizations dedicated to the wellbeing, individual growth, and overall health of veterans entering the next phase of their lives.
That’s why we’re excited to introduce you to Dog Tag Inc., an organization helping veterans with service-connected disabilities and their families find fulfillment in their professional and personal lives.
What is Dog Tag Inc.?
Dog Tag Inc. is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization with a mission to “empower service-disabled veterans with service-connected disabilities, military spouses, and caregivers to find renewed purpose and community after serving our nation” through an innovative business and education program.
Dog Tag Bakery is at the center of Dog Tag Inc.’s fellowship program, which combines wellness activities with hands-on business experience and coursework.
Dog Tag Inc. History
The co-founders of Dog Tag Bakery are Father Richard Curry S.J. and Constance Milstein.
Father Richard “Rick” Curry S.J. was born without his right forearm. Despite facing physical and social challenges, he vigorously pursued his love of theater and became a Jesuit priest. Father Curry founded the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped and created the Wounded Warriors Writers Workshop.
He was also passionate about baking, incorporated a baking program as part of The National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped’s residential theater school Maine, and penned two books, Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking and Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Constance “Connie” Milstein ran a bakery in Mount Kisco, New York (which donated 100 percent of its profits to charity). She worked with local organizations to help support women, including many military spouses, to become financially self-sufficient.
When Father Curry and Ms. Milstein met in 2013, he had already established the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Dog Tag Inc. The two discovered an immediate connection. They both shared a passion for service, and both wanted to empower veterans and military spouses to build meaningful lives with renewed purpose after serving our country.
And they both loved to bake.
Together in 2013, Father Curry and Ms. Milstein opened Dog Tag Bakery inside a two-story, 4,200-square-foot building located in historic Georgetown, Washington, D.C. In 2014, the Dog Tag Fellowship Program launched its first cohort, providing fellows with hands-on experience in the first-floor storefront and kitchen, plus course instruction in a classroom above the bakery.
Father Curry passed away on December 19, 2015, but his legacy lives on through the bakery, storytelling, and unending passion that helped shape Dog Tag Inc. and the fellowship program.
In addition to running a community café and making delicious made-from-scratch desserts, Dog Tag Inc.’s dynamic, sky’s-the-limit program is “baking a difference” (as Dog Tag likes to say) and giving back to those who have given so much of themselves to their country.
How Dog Tag Inc. Gives Back
Dog Tag runs an intense five-month fellowship program twice a year, accepting up to 16 participants (or fellows) per cohort. The program’s goal is to help fellows build resilience, forge connections, and find purpose as they transition from military service to civilian life.
The Dog Tag Fellowship Program has five integrated components that work together to enhance a fellow’s social and professional skills and more.
Dog Tag Inc. partners with the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university to build an academic foundation and help fellows develop small business skills through coursework in management, communication, accounting, corporate finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship.
Fellows who complete the program earn a customized Certificate in Business Administration from Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.
2. Hands-on Learning
Dog Tag Bakery is a living business school; fellows can explore every aspect of running a small business through in-house, hands-on experience in a real-world environment.
The bakery setting provides an ideal opportunity to gain leadership and teamwork experience in business operations, staff management, customer service, and business development.
Fellows come up with recipes, calculate the cost of goods, and tackle real-time challenges while working within Dog Tag Bakery — where proceeds help fuel Dog Tag’s programs!
3. Learning Labs
Dog Tag’s Learning Labs focus on skills building, career exploration, and networking through a series of professional workshops and lectures facilitated by nonprofit leaders, seasoned entrepreneurs, and private and public sector executives.
Fellows learn to become more adept at:
- Building confidence in making connections
- Finding commonalities and thriving as a team member
- Defining their business goals and personal aspirations
- Seeing their potential to succeed in the civilian workforce
Workshop facilitators offer their insight, open their networks to fellows, and provide mentorship opportunities and invaluable guidance as fellows progress further.
Dog Tag takes a holistic approach to mentally prepare participants to get the most out of the program’s lessons and resources.
Activities center on mindfulness, journaling, nutrition, and physical health (like yoga) to help fellows “process their past, reflect on their current experiences, and envision their future.”
Fellows also take a Finding Your Voice theater course, inspired by Father Curry’s Wounded Writers Workshop, which uses the power of storytelling to help them discover their professional voice and share their life experiences in an empowered manner with an audience.
And they don’t have to go too far to tell their stories. It was Father Curry’s vision to include a storytelling course in the fellowship program and build a stage inside of Dog Tag Bakery.
The capstone pushes fellows to envision their next steps, take everything they’ve learned, and develop a robust plan that breathes life into their future. Whether it’s becoming an entrepreneur, going back to school, or following an alternative path, fellows present their ideas in front of a Shark Tank-style panel of “friendly observers” who provide valuable feedback and encouragement.
Dog Tag’s program helps fellows build long-lasting habits and forge a community within their cohort and across Dog Tag’s alumni network. Upon completing the program, Dog Tag fellows are better equipped to find, pursue, achieve, and sustain their future.
Dog Tag’s Impact
To date, Dog Tag Inc. has had 13 cohorts and impacted the lives of 163 fellows over seven years. Dog Tag’s alumni are currently active as follows:
- 48% are either full time or part-time employed at another organization
- 22% are either full time or part-time entrepreneurs
- 14% are pursuing education, either full or part-time
Dog Tag’s fellowship program also equipped alumni with the tools, resources, and mindset to adapt to unexpected changes like COVID-19. In line with Dog Tag Inc.’s spirit of service, alumni have worked to help one another continue their missions during the pandemic.
Learn more about the resiliency of Dog Tag alumni with Dog Tag Pivot stories.
Future Plans for Dog Tag Inc.
Demand for Dog Tag’s program is greater than ever, and Dog Tag plans to continue growing their innovative programming to meet the need of our nation’s veterans and military families.
They have plans to:
1. Bring their Product to New Markets
In 2018, Dog Tag Bakery partnered with Starbucks to help raise awareness for veteran causes with their limited-edition brownie topped with salted potato chip crumble; the sought-after dessert was sold at over 8,000 participating locations nationwide. Dog Tag hopes to grow its e-commerce by exploring more ways to sell its product in shops beyond the D.C. area.
2. Expand the Fellowship Program
Dog Tag’s fellowship program is now entirely virtual (with plans to return to in-person activities when it is safe to do so). Since successfully incorporating virtual education, they reimagine the future and are seeking more ways to expand their fellowship program in the future.
How to Donate Dog Tag Bakery
A few ways you can show support:
- Donate directly to Dog Tag Bakery through their website.
- Select Dog Tag Bakery as your nonprofit when shopping with Giving Assistant.
- Shop Dog Tag Bakery’s online store
- Add your name (or a loved one’s who served) to the Dog Tag Chandelier.
What is Giving Assistant?
Giving Assistant helps shoppers turn their everyday online shopping into charitable giving. Members have access to exclusive coupons and savings at thousands of online stores, plus earn cash back they can donate effortlessly to any nonprofit organization in the US.
Like Dog Tag Bakery, which partners with Giving Assistant, nonprofits can expand their reach and achieve their fundraising goals quicker with shopper donations. We make giving easy and automatic! Install our free browser extension, the Giving Assistant Button, to support the causes you care most about, and start shopping, saving, and donating your cash back to your favorite nonprofits today!