Some things are meant to be. Beshert as they say in Hebrew. And my visit to DC’s Dog Tag Bakery proved that to be one of those “meant to be” times when blogging and life come together.
A while back I heard a radio news clip about the bakery. It sounded like a cool place and I’m always up for a field trip. But like so much else, it didn’t happen immediately and slipped off my radar.
Then one day last month while perusing my Facebook feed, I realized that fellow blogger and Facebook friend Betsy Eves, is in the DC’s Dog Tag Bakery Fellowship program. I reached out to her to see if I could make my visit to the bakery more than just a trip to baked goods heaven. She agreed to meet me at the bakery, and we set a date.
Slight digression – in the old days “BB” (before blogging), I lectured my kids incessantly on the dangers of making friends online. I insisted on scrutinizing the screen names of people they met in chatrooms (what did I think I was going to learn from that?) and kept trying to look over their shoulders (the “POS ” abbreviation came about for a reason!) when they were on the slow and clunky computer in our den.
Fast forward to present day – I chat with all manner of people online and consider many of them friends, even though I’ve never met them IRL (“in real life”) and may never do so. The internet is still a dangerous place, especially for kids. I don’t apologize for being cautious about what my kids were doing online. But I have to admit that I now see positives where I once saw only evil and danger. And meeting Betsy definitely goes into the positive category:)
I’ll admit that I’m a big hugger. But I rarely hug a stranger right out of the box. This time was an exception. After making sure we were indeed looking at the right person, Betsy and I began a huge hug that had bakery staff and customers smiling, even if they were a bit taken aback.
Over two conversations, an incredibly delicious turkey sandwich and a few too many Dog Tag cookies, I learned more about Betsy, DC’s Dog Tag Bakery, and their back stories.
DC’s Dog Tag Bakery
- Is the brainchild of an incredible pair, Father Rick Curry, S. J. (a Jesuit), and Connie Milstein. Besides being a religious leader, Father Curry was an actor, master baker, teacher and cookbook author. (He died in 2015.) Connie Milstein has been an attorney, entrepreneur, senior business executive and philanthropist.
- Together, they created a 5-month certificate program in cooperation with Georgetown University. It takes those accepted through all aspects of the bakery/cafe, from operations and human resources to accounting, marketing, and baking. There are rotations through the various operations, as well as classes and other support services.
- The Dog Tag Inc. Fellowship Program is open to disabled veterans, their spouses and caregivers. It aims to give them work skills, confidence, and experience in a small business setting so that they can successfully transition to civilian employment.
- The nonprofit Fellowship Program operates in conjunction with a retail store, DC’s Dog Tag Bakery, which opened in 2014. Offering mouthwatering cakes, cookies, sandwiches, and lots more, the bakery also provides a real world business environment for the fellows. Dog Tag Inc. program offices and classrooms are upstairs in the same building, with kitchens on both floors.
Betsy joined the Dog Tag Inc. Fellowship Program’s 4th class this year. She has chronicled her progress and struggles on her blog, The Java Cupcake Blog, in a section called “life”. I urge you to read it. Of course, you should check out her recipes too, but honestly life is much more than cupcakes.
With disarming honesty and grit, Betsy lets us into what it’s like to care for a spouse with PTSD and other service-connected disabilities, move back to the US after living abroad as an army spouse, and to have to figure out how to find her way in the “civilian” business world. I’m in awe of her courage and creativity, not to mention her ability to keep perspective and smile even in tough times.
Here she is with Kyle Wronsky, a chef at the bakery.
I asked Betsy about who at Dog Tag inspires her. Being straightforward, she gave me an answer: Kyle Burns, the Dog Tag Program Director. But then Betsy bubbled over with stories of others who have given her strength and support.
“We’re really in different places on the journey, but we’re all on the journey together at Dog Tag.”
And when I watched her interact with the head pastry chef, Rebecca Clerget, Kyle Wronsky and the staff behind the retail counter, it is obvious that support and respect are integral to every aspect of the Dog Tag operation. And love – for each other and for the mission.
Sure I brought back goodies from DC’s Dog Tag Bakery. I won’t lie. I enjoyed every morsel.
I even bought a book – Father Curry’s second cookbook, The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking. After all, how could I pass up a cookbook that lists recipes by the Catholic holidays and has a recipe for matzo balls under Christmas?
Yet the most important part of my trip to Dog Tag wasn’t a dessert or a recipe – it was that wonderful feeling when you realize that you’ve just seen community in action. No handouts or easy answers and lots of struggle along the way. Instead, a bunch of people working together, inspiring each other to establish and reach their goals. With cookies along the way.
Coming on Wednesday – My version of Father Curry’s Cream of Corn Soup