Walking past Dog Tag Bakery in Georgetown, one might think it’s a bakery for dogs (really), or simply just a place to grab a cookie and cup of coffee.
But it’s much more than that.
Just above the bakery is a classroom that hosts a five-month long work-study program. Lolly Rivas, the director of development at Dog Tag Inc., says the program is dedicated to educating service-disabled veterans, military spouses, caregivers and translators.
“The whole idea is that this program gives individuals five months of the time, space and experience to start to figure out what fulfillment will look like for them in the civilian world and then build a road map of how they can start to make those strides to get there,” Rivas says.
Dog Tag Inc. partners with Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, which provides graduates of the program with a certificate of Business Administration from the university.
Twelve people are chosen to attend the program out of a pool of 50-70 applicants. During the course of five months, the students work in various rotations of business. One of the last rotations involves a component referred to as “Finding Your Voice.”
Rivas says that one of the co-founders, Father Richard Curry, had a background in theater and felt very strongly that it should be a part of the program. So much so that there’s a stage in the bakery for such events.
“Day one, we ask people to start thinking about their story because its theirs and how do you start to tell it with pride and grace,” Rivas says.
Then the night before graduation, they close the bakery so that the fellows can tell their story. They do so onstage in the bakery, under a dog tag chandelier.
Of the 36 fellows from their first four cohorts, Rivas says 88 percent have graduated. Eighty-six percent of those who have graduated have either started their own business, have joined a non-profit or private sector.
One of those graduates is Pete Scott, a Special Forces Army veteran who served three tours and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“One thing that he really found comfort in was agriculture,” Rivas says. “He liked to garden. He liked to get his hands dirty. And he wanted to use that to help the community.”
Upon graduation, Scott founded the non-profit Fields 4 Valor Farm in Hyattsvillle, Maryland. His non-profit grows produce and delivers it to families with Operation Homefront at Walter Reed Medical Center.
In the bakery, Dog Tag allows veterans and active military service members to showcase their products, as well as use their space for events. The Armed Services Arts Partnership hosts a monthly open mic night, Dog Tag serves Compass Coffee, a local veteran-owned coffee company, and sells G-Dub’s hot sauce, owned by an active duty Navy sailor.
“The bakery wouldn’t exist without the educational program,” Rivas says. “Any profit from the bakery is invested into the veteran education program.”