The following article was originally printed in Capitol File Magazine.
If there ever were a “recipe for success,” it would start with one part knowledge, a large cup of compassion, equal parts creativity and passion, and a dash of je ne sais quoi. I believe that the recipe for success—including true philanthropic success—requires all of these ingredients, along with a thoughtful eye to the nature of the problem and a sustainable solution.
Born into a generation who believed in making love, not war, I have always been attracted to big problems that require big solutions. And we are certainly not lacking big challenges these days—serious problems that need our attention and our humanitarian support.
I am proud of the challenges that I have tackled so far: ensuring our country has a vibrant and accessible cultural center for the performing arts as a board member for the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera; helping Blue Star Families create a global network for military families; and helping to convene the 2014 White House Summit on Working Families for an important discussion on creating a 21st-century workplace that is meaningful for all Americans. But my latest philanthropic venture—Dog Tag Bakery—holds a special place in my heart.
Solving a big problem like the unemployment of veterans can certainly be daunting. I felt compelled to act when I saw the way the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans—particularly those with disabilities—hovered above the national average. Just to give you an idea of the numbers: When Dog Tag Bakery opened in December last year, the unemployment rate among Gulf War –era II vets was 6.9 percent—1.5 points above the national average. While those numbers are better than they were two years ago—when the gap was twice as big—there is still so much we can do.
In 2005, I saw an opportunity to engage in a public-private partnership when I opened Connie’s Bakery & General Store in Mt. Kisco, NY, where contributions were made to three dozen designated charities, and the bakery was staffed by people trying to get back on their feet. The bakery and general store, which has since closed, was more than just an opportunity to perfect our recipes: In creating this enterprise, I learned that we couldn’t just provide individuals in transition with jobs—we had to provide the training and support they needed to create stability in their lives.
Then, in 2012, I met Father Rick Curry, a Jesuit priest, baker, and cookbook author (The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking), who was born disabled and has dedicated his life to serving others with disabilities. We bonded over baking, social philanthropy, and a calling to work with veterans with disabilities, so together we opened Dog Tag Bakery on Grace Street in Georgetown. People have called our partnership “a match made in heaven.” He’s the one-armed, Jesuit priest, and I’m his Jewish fairy godmother.
At its core, Dog Tag Bakery is a social enterprise designed to help veterans as they pursue their civilian careers in business. We combine a state-of-the-art bakery with a paid fellowship for wounded veterans and their spouses. Our partnership with Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies allows Dog Tag Bakery fellows to attend classes in business management, operations, and finance while baking, preparing orders, and gaining practical experience running a small business.
The true legacy of Dog Tag Bakery is more than the individual successes of our fellows. It is more than the delicious products we sell. It’s about creating a model that can be replicated across the country to help disabled veterans achieve their dreams. There will always be “checkbook philanthropy,” but to really make a difference, we must empower people.
In a short amount of time, we at Dog Tag Bakery have been humbled by the overwhelming support from our own community. Perhaps it’s because everyone can relate to a veteran’s dream of becoming an entrepreneur or having a successful career in the corporate world. We are showing people that everyone can help veterans—by buying a sweet treat, sponsoring a fellow through financial support, purchasing and personalizing a dog tag to hang from the bakery’s ceiling, or even being a guest speaker at a Dog Tag fellow class.
We welcome your support and encourage you to search your own imagination for ways in which you too can give back and make a difference. I continue to be inspired by the number of socially conscious people who are creating challenging and diverse social entrepreneurships. We must never forget that everyone has the ability to give back and make a difference. Dog Tag Bakery, 3206 Grace St. NW, 202-527-9388