What goes into making dog biscuits? Not much. The listed ingredients are just flour, water, milk and flavoring. But when the oven dings at Loudoun’s ECHO Barkery, it’s more than just dog biscuits that are produced.
Dignity. Purpose. Satisfaction. Inclusion. These are the unseen benefits of having a job, particularly for adults with disabilities. Nationwide in 2020, only 17.9% of adults with disability were employed, compared to 61.8% of people without disabilities. That employment gap grew during COVID-19, as positions that could not telework were downsized.
In Loudoun County, Every Citizen Has Opportunities has helped place adults with disabilities in meaningful employment for 45 years. Starting in spring 2021, ECHO opened its first commercial kitchen to make dog biscuits and create 18 jobs specifically for this community.
“We’ve been through a lot, these past 18 months, all of us. So many of our community work sites have shut down and have remained shut down. It was time. We had to do something to get employment turned on again” ECHO CEO Paul Donohue explained. “As we like to say, it’s the dignity of a paycheck, and that’s what the ECHO Barkery is.”
Every day, employees of the Barkery are empowered to produce hundreds of peanut butter-, bacon- and chicken-flavored dog biscuits, which are packaged and sold through the website, as well as regional Whole Foods. The sales (combined with generous donations) create paychecks and fund the commercial kitchen space in Ashburn. The goal is for sales to eventually cover all costs and then some, allowing ECHO to expand operations and services.
But there’s more to the ECHO Barkery than meets the eye.
“We also have something called the ECHO Academy, where we try to get people trained, workforce development, so that they have skills in the community. We have a curriculum now in hospitality and food services,” he said. “That’s part of the ECHO Barkery.”
According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Loudoun’s unemployment rate is back down to 3.6% as the economy re-opens. The market for attracting workforce in the hospitality and food service industries has been especially competitive for area businesses.
Dave MacDonald, who serves on both the Loudoun Economic Development Advisory Commission’s Executive Committee and as President of the ECHO Board of Directors, sees ECHO as part of that solution.
“We need your support community. I think this is a great opportunity for our community to demonstrate that people with disabilities are part of the inclusiveness story,” he said. “We have many, many vacancies, and people with disabilities are part of the solution to that problem.”
Four members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors were in attendance to show their support, including Chair at Large Phyllis J. Randall and supervisors Michael R. Turner (Ashburn), Sylvia R. Glass (Broad Run), and Juli E. Briskman (Algonkian). Supervisors Turner and Glass also brought their dogs to the event.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to get more funding into ECHO because of the work that you are quietly doing every single day for people with differing abilities,” Chair Randall said, quipping: “Sometimes you have to do good work a little louder because people don’t always know the work you’re doing! It is amazing and thank you so much.”
Randall also turned and addressed the employees of the ECHO Barkery, saying: “To the people working in the Barkery: Thank you all for doing this. Every single day, we have all these animals in Loudoun that need healthy food, loving care and support. What you all are doing is helping to take care of the community and definitely take care of the animals.
“I am so grateful for you all, and I am so proud of you all.”
Are you looking to grow your workforce? Loudoun Economic Development is a full-service economic development organization with a dedicated Workforce Development Manager in Nancy Evanko. Contact Evanko today to discuss ECHO and other workforce solutions.
About ECHO Barkery: ECHO Barkery is a commercial venture of ECHO created to empower the mission of ECHO. The Barkery is a working bakery producing handmade dog treats individually handcrafted and specifically designed with your dog in mind. At the Barkery, individuals are given a sense of purpose, the opportunity to work, and the ability to refine and develop skillsets important not only for the workplace but for daily life skills as well. The Barkery is a strong community of individuals who love coming to work every day with smiles on their faces, proud to produce Barkery biscuits, and experience the camaraderie of a team. The Barkery continues to support the mission everyday by empowering individuals with disabilities without compromising the quality of the product which you would expect for your beloved pet. Shop the ECHO Barkery.
About ECHO: The mission of ECHO is to empower individuals with disabilities to achieve their optimal level of personal, social and economic success. ECHO is a nonprofit that offers lifelong support for adults with disabilities. We provide skill building, job placement, day support and transportation. Our services empower individuals to be active members of the community. ECHO was established in 1974 and began serving adults with disabilities in 1975 by offering vocational training, community integration, and comprehensive disability employment. ECHO provides services from our Leesburg, Virginia facility, as well as on-site at businesses throughout Northern Virginia. Learn more.