In the words of my favorite band The Wombats, I’ve just had the craziest week. But unlike the title of that song, I am not moving to New York. In fact, I moved away from it, down here to Washington DC, the nation’s capital, where every day is culture shock for someone who still misses real pizza. Working as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow at Dog Tag Bakery- which also goes by Dog Tag Inc, has been completely life-changing. I came on as the resident “storyteller”, aiming to collect the stories of all those who have passed through Dog Tag’s five month entrepreneurship fellowship program for post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities, military spouses and caregivers (yes, a mouthful!). I now wear so many “hats” (read: do so many things) I could start a hat business on the side. Program management, event staffing, social media, media relations…it’s been incredible.
Dog Tag celebrates its fifth anniversary this December, and has hired three new full time staff members in the past five months, including me. A marketing and brand manager, a program manager, and a storyteller. But due to the nature of nonprofits, my role has evolved into a mix of social media marketing, interviews, being a point person for journalists, event coordination, and above all, program support for the fellowship itself. As a deeply empathetic person who’s pretty open about my less-than-stellar mental health, I’ve had to take a crash course in secondary trauma and emotional burnout, but I also discovered that this is the kind of work I want to do, and at which I excel. I am as civilian as it gets, and learning the military lingo has been a definite journey, one along which I have met so many incredible people. I am learning what I like, what I dread, and when to ask other people for help. I ran the program for a week when my supervisor was out sick, and I ran the social media for two weeks when the marketing manager was out getting married. The professional development here is on the job.
Dog Tag’s CEO Meghan Ogilvie describes the program as “high touch, high impact” and it’s true. I have never before worked in an environment where I saw the direct effects of my hard work on the people I’m trying to help. Before applying to the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship, I honestly had never contemplated working in the nonprofit sector. I grew up with parents who work for the United Nations, and due to an anti-nepotism rule, I can’t work there until they retire. Because of this, and since my interest in politics waxed over time, I decided to work in government and dedicated my collegiate career to this very goal. I didn’t expect to be selected for the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship, but when I did, I asked what organization would get me to DC.
So here I am, suddenly in the nation’s capital, nowhere near government work. While I began by directly interviewing alumni of Dog Tag’s program, I started helping out with the current Fellows and before I knew it, was involved with almost every aspect of their day-to-day. This ranges from coordinating individual interviews for our Mock Interview Day, to accompanying them to Hill Day, to welcoming guest speakers and even ordering catering for their graduation. When I first onboarded, I even had individual meetings with each of the staff to learn their backgrounds and how we could potentially collaborate. I’ve learned in the interim that nonprofit organizations are full of passionate people making the most of what they have. Whenever I express an interest in a particular aspect of the organization, someone at Dog Tag is willing to let me jump in and try it. I’m even project managing the implementation of our new client relationship management system.
Most recently, we had three events in the space of a week, including graduation and a reunion for alumni of the program. It was a rollercoaster of a week, exhausting, emotional, and extremely fulfilling. With the team at Dog Tag, I’ve been able to accomplish more in a few months than I ever thought would be possible. I’m looking towards my future, and the world is full of possibilities. Whether I head to federal work next, remain in the nonprofit space, or even explore the private sector, I’m emerging from this fellowship year with more skills and experience than any 22 year old should reasonably possess. In a nonprofit, everyone wears multiple hats. The hats make me feel prepared for whatever’s out there. The real world is not so scary after all. Thank you Dog Tag, and thank you Newman’s Own Foundation. I have thank-you notes scattered all over my desk, and it’s about time I return the favor.
By Frances Raybaud, 2019-2020 NOF Fellow at Dog Tag Inc., Washington, D.C.