Anyone who spends the day on the Fairfield University campus is likely to see students wearing bright and bold hoodies with “Fairfield Beach” printed on them. So, what’s the story behind this casual wear?
This clothing is made by Team Woofgang & Co., a local nonprofit organization founded in 2017 by three mothers of young adults with disabilities to help adults with disabilities in the community gain employment experience.
These dedicated mothers were looking for meaningful work for their children to do after they graduated high school and their public school program ended.
Team Woofgang ties together a love for dogs and a love for young adults with disabilities, to create benefits for both.
Assistant Program Manager Brooke Ogilvy gives information on how she feels working for Team Woofgang.
“I love working at Woofgang because I can see the impact we are having on the lives of the young adults, customers, volunteers and staff members every day. I see increases in confidence of our team members as they learn new work tasks or life skills. I also see how working at Team Woofgang can help everyone be lifelong learners, ” Oglivy said.
She also states that “from the outside, it may look like we are simply selling hoodies and dog treats but inside our store and in our bakery, we have created lifelong learning opportunities for our team members.”
This powerful trio came up with the name “Team Woofgang” from having a “play on words” for helping dogs, as their company name is catchy and easy to remember. They added the word “team” to distinguish themselves from a similarly named for-profit company.
The word “team” in their name does not only distinguish them, but it represents their motto—“Together Everyone Achieves More,” which spells out “TEAM”. Team Woofgang loves to emphasize that they work together as a team to succeed, which would not be possible without all members of the Woofgang “family”.
Their success started with their popular event, “Parade Your Paws for a Cause,” which raised a significant amount of money and had a large turnout of supporters.
After this successful event, members of the community offered to pay rent at 1300 Post Road in Fairfield.
Ten percent of the funds for Team Woofgang come from retail stores. The rest of the money for programming comes from fundraisers and donations. Their expenses include rent payment for the bakery space, salaries for staff and learning services the organization provides for their team.
Packed with Woofgang logoed hoodies, dog treats, blankets, pajamas and more, Woofgang’s retail store is incredibly popular, especially with Fairfield University students.
Gina Fiacco, a junior Marketing major at Fairfield University, explained that she was “amazed” to find out what Woofgang does for members of the community.
“The first time I went to Woofgang I was simply just going to purchase a sweatshirt. When I was there, I spoke with staff and learned a lot about their story, and I was amazed and so happy to be able to support a non-profit organization that does such great things for members of the community,” Fiacco said.
Emily Regan, a junior at Fairfield University, recounts one of her first experiences shopping in the store which echoes Fiacco’s.
“After shopping at Woofgang it made me realize how amazing and important of an organization it is. I bought dog treats for my aunt’s dog and she completely loved them. Not only are the dog treats a recipe from a local Connecticut woman, but they are made by the young adults that the nonprofit supports,” Regan said.
Executive Director Aimee Turner provided information from a census data report that shows there are at least 20,000 young adults with disabilities in Connecticut that could benefit from the services Woofgang provides.
Not only does Woofgang provide employment for young adults with disabilities, but the organization also aims to improve their future work opportunities by teaching them a distinct set of skills.
Team members use their reading, math and fine and gross motor skills to package and sell products while learning customer service and retail skills.
Moreover, Woofgang offers training in a retail curriculum and production curriculum.
They also give young adults with disabilities the chance to work on, for example, their communication skills–through interacting with customers and coworkers. They are also able to learn how to work on “shopkeeping,” by tracking inventory and keeping revenue.
Participants also develop skills in marketing, office and e-commerce, and are able to work on social media content, promotions, phone etiquette, packaging and mailing.
The production curriculum helps students learn food safety, including the proper ways to handle, store and prepare food. They learn kitchen safety and cleanliness, baking skills and most importantly, general life skills. Including time management, task analysis, personal hygiene and professional expectations.
Not only does Woofgang teach their team members lifelong skills, but they create a “family” for their workers.
According to an individual with disabilities who works at Woofgang, he loves working for this organization as he gets to work with his friends and family.
“Woofgang is like family to me,” he said. “I’ve been working here since 2017 and I’ve made so many friends here.”
He also loves the skills he’s developing.
“I love making posters and marketing for Woofgang,” he said.
Staff members like Brooke Ogilvy are passionate about helping these young adults and enjoy teaching and practicing these skills with team members, while also building friendships.
“I love working for Woofgang. I was a special education teacher previously. It’s so nice to be able to work with so many different people and do so many different things that I never thought I would do … working in a store, working in a bakery, it’s a very unique experience to be a part of something that’s doing good for so many people,” Ogilvy said.
“It feels good to help so many families, and help adults that work for us engage socially”
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic when all in-person operations were shut down, Team Woofgang members and staff were able to participate in routine Zoom calls, allowing personnel to work together to keep their business successful.
The team was able to easily adjust to the “at-home curriculum” and produced and sold over 850 boxes of dog treats.
Fairfield University students can help Woofgang team members by participating in Best Buddies, a program that helps prevent social and physical isolation among students with intellectual and developmental disabilities by pairing college students with disabled peers.
According to junior Caroline Sweeney, vice president of Best Buddies, about 50 Fairfield students attend the meetings and about 20 buddies are registered for the chapter.
Fairfield University students also volunteer at the store and help with checking customers out, and stocking and organizing items.
From purchasing apparel from Woofgang’s store in Fairfield to attending Best Buddies meetings, there are many ways Fairfield University students can support this local business with a mission.