Smiles and the smells of freshly baked bread, cakes and cookies greet visitors of Dog Tag Bakery here, a place where disabled veterans can learn more than just baking.
Disabled veterans, their spouses and caregivers can participate in a work-study fellowship that will help them as they transition from the military to the civilian workforce, said Kyle Burns, senior program director for the fellowship program at Dog Tag Bakery.
Burns said the program has three prongs: The first is education, where they partner with Georgetown University to deliver a certificate in business administration through the university’s School of Continuing Studies. The second prong is rotations through the different business roles at the bakery, such as management, human resources, marketing, public relations, product development and customer service. The third prong is developing transition skills such as resume preparation, interview skills, group dynamics, resolving conflict in the workplace and networking.
“Throughout the course, we put what they learned from the classroom into the hands-on experience here in the bakery,” she said.
The bakery opened last year, and its second set of students began their five-month course in June and graduate next week. Most of the students have post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries.
“It’s incredible to see the transition for all of them,” Burns said. “They start anxious and excited, and then they go through this journey. It’s challenging, and it’s interesting and exciting. It’s just amazing to watch as they blossom and grow and begin to see how valuable the skill sets are and how needed they are in the civilian world -- and they begin the see their place in it.”
Helping Veterans Plan for the Future
For Josh Tredinnick, a medically retired Army sergeant, the Dog Tag Bakery fellowship gave him a new future.
Tredinnick was injured in 2009 in Afghanistan when he was struck by an improvised explosive device. He had hip and back surgery and has a TBI and PTSD. He said his work in a veteran support office was fulfilling, but baking has always been beneficial for him.
“Baking has been very therapeutic as far as just getting me involved in a healthy activity,” he said. “What I’ve enjoyed most about it that you can take this set of ingredients, you can follow these steps, and you’re more than likely to come out with this final product every single time.
“You take these small steps and do it correctly, you put everything you’ve got into it, and you’ll come out with a better product on the other end,” Tredinnick added. He said his favorite part of baking is the variety of breads that can be made from the same basic set of ingredients.
He said his wife, Erica, has enjoyed his work at the bakery, especially when he brings home some of the French baguettes he bakes.
“She’s been very supportive,” he said. “She’s excited for what happens next.”
Taking Advantage of an Opportunity
Burns said Tredinnick is making the most of his fellowship.
“Josh is really dedicated to the program and what he can take from it, taking advantage of all kinds of opportunities and making this an experience that will benefit him in his future,” she said.
Tredinnick said he hopes to open his own bakery and already has a job lined up at another bakery when he graduates next week.
He and Burns recommend that disabled veterans and their spouses and caregivers consider applying to programs like this one.
“It’s okay to take help, and it’s okay to know that the next steps are probably going to be a little difficult. But take advantage of the opportunities that are out there, especially when you can find good programs like this. It will really be beneficial,” Tredinnick said.
The professors provide handouts, resources online and a book to reinforce the material for those with PTSD and TBI issues, he added.
“There are two fellowship programs each year,” Burns said. “... We are always looking for wounded warriors, sponsors and caregivers to be a part of those classes.”
The application is available at www.dogtagbakery.org, she said, noting that they are recruiting right now for the January class. “We encourage anybody who thinks this might be a great program for them to please apply,” Burns said.
She also encourages anybody who would just like to visit the Dog Tag Bakery to just stop by.