Mark Doyle didn’t know a thing about screen-printing t-shirts but that didn’t stop him from starting Rags of Honor, a Chicago-based t-shirt company dedicated to hiring homeless and chronically unemployed veterans.
Doyle now works as the director of Prairie Community Bank in Marengo, Ill., as well as the football coach at St. Pat’s High School in Chicago. But back in 2010, he was hired to help the U.S. Army investigate financial corruption in Afghanistan. While there, he was struck by the dedication of the service members and also by the fact that a lot of money was being spent on foreign aid, while relatively little was dedicated to helping struggling veterans back home.
So Doyle started Rags of Honor, a company that pays its veteran employees a living wage to produce a variety of patriotic and pro-Chicago t-shirts, as well as orders of custom-printed shirts. Rags of Honor trains workers even if they have no related experience and provides them benefits and opportunities for advancement.
The company has been a lifesaver for Navy veteran Tamika Holyfield. “I did two years and a half at the Bartons Air Base in Afghanistan,” she tells Ravi Baichwal of ABC 7 Chicago. “I returned to hardship and turmoil. I didn’t have a place to live, so I was basically living out of my car.”
The same was true for Frank Beamon III, who served as a machine gunner in Afghanistan, but found that his experience there counted for little with employers when he returned home to the Windy City. Both Holyfield and Beamon ended up homeless.
“The day I told them they were hired, they started crying on the spot,” Doyle tells Baichwal. “These are grown men and women. So never underestimate what just a job can mean to somebody who has no hope.”
For those who might think that they don’t have the power to reach out and help veterans, “You don’t have to be the President,” Doyle says. “You don’t have to start Google. Make a difference in the lives immediately around you. Give somebody hope. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we do, one t-shirt at a time. If I can leave anybody with anything, give somebody hope today.”