By Margo Greenman
If you’ve ever had a Chicago-style hot dog, you know it’s not your typical frank. These Vienna beef links, which are piled high with yellow mustard, chopped onion, tomato slices, bright green relish, sport peppers, celery salt and a pickle spear, are in a tasty league all their own. But, unless you happen to be in the Midwest, finding one of these flavorful franks can be a bit of a challenge. This is why it was only natural for Chicago native Debby Graham to want to bring the flavor of her hometown with her when she moved to the South Sound five years ago.
Debby Graham is the Executive Director for Centerforce, a Tacoma non-profit committed to connecting people who have disabilities to their community through work. When several of Centerforce’s clients expressed an interest in learning to work in the food service industry, Debby saw an opportunity to bring homestyle Chicago hot dogs to the South Sound, all while helping disabled people get the training and experience they needed to enter the workforce. Hometown Dogs, which launched earlier last year, has become a popular lunchtime destination for the community and a fantastic hands-on training program for disabled people living in the Tacoma area.
After its first 12-week class, Hometown Dogs has already helped match five disabled people with jobs in the community at places like Burger King, Auntie Anne’s and JBLM commissaries, just to name a few. Using the Seattle-based Catalyst Kitchens model, Debby is proud to say that Centerforce is the first organization in the United States to use this method of training with developmentally disabled people. Debby says through this unique food service education and training program, individuals can train on the food truck and develop the skills they need to work in the food service industry.
Gordon Chun-Fook enrolled in Centerforce’s food service education and training program last October and is now a regular part-time employee on the Hometown Dogs truck. Gordon, who came to Centerforce homeless after sustaining brain damage from a car accident, wanted to learn some new skills so he could get back to work. He decided to enroll in the food service education and training program at Centerforce. “I wanted to try it,” he said. “The only way you can find out if you like something is if you try.” Like everyone who goes through the program, Gordon obtained a food handler’s card and learned how to prepare various food items, take inventory, operate the cash register, and more. “I love it,” he says.
The Hometown Dogs truck, which changes location depending on the day of the week, is hard to miss. The flashy red and yellow truck was designed and wrapped by the talented team at Rusty George Creative. After being selected by the Tacoma-based PR firm as the recipient of a rebranding grant in 2014, Centerforce continued working with Rusty George on the design of the hot dog truck earlier last fall. Each year Rusty George Creative gives back to the community by selecting a local non-profit organization to support with a completely free rebranding campaign. In addition to the truck, Rusty George Creative also designed Hometown Dogs’ website and has helped Centerforce rebrand overall.
In addition to Centerforce’s food service education and training program, the organization provides a variety of other training programs and support services to disabled people living in the South Sound. Centerforce has helped people of varying abilities not only find jobs in the community, but prepare for those jobs in other ways, too. Some ways Centerforce does this is by working together with individuals, providing valuable social skill building exercises, and outfitting their clients in professional, work ready attire.
But, Centerforce can’t do all of this alone. While many of Centerforce’s programs produce revenue that goes right back into the programs they provide, Centerforce also relies on donations from the community to thrive. And, Debby says donations come in many forms. Centerforce is always accepting monetary and clothing donations, but you can also donate your time by becoming a volunteer or joining Centerforce’s Board of Directors.
If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved with Centerforce and make a difference in the community, visit Centerforce online or call Centerforce at 253-582-5687, or support Centerforce on your next lunch break by heading to hometown dogs.
All photos courtesy of Centerforce.