T-shirt company a lifeline for homeless veterans

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Sometimes a t-shirt is more than just a t-shirt and at a company called "Rags of Honor," a t-shirt is a lifeline for veterans who need a helping hand.

The t-shirts they produce look similar to any others. It's the workers who are different.

"It's the only company, silkscreen company and apparel company that we know of devoted to hiring homeless veterans," said founder Mark Doyle.

Tamika Holyfield trained other seamen in handling weapons during her six-year tenure in the navy.

"I did two years and a half at the Bartons Air Base in Afghanistan," she said. "I returned to hardship and turmoil. I didn't have a place to live so I was basically living out of my car."

Twenty-five-year-old Frank Beamon III was a sniper operating a 50-caliber machine gun atop an army vehicle in Afghanistan.

Both found their skills hard to market when they returned home.

"When I came back, I tried to get back into the regular life but there's pretty much no jobs in Chicago for somebody that manned a 50-cal. It really doesn't go back to a civilian job so I really have no work experience," Beamon said.

Like all of the other servicemen and women who work here, both Holyfield and Beamon were jobless and homeless.

"The day I told them they were hired, they started crying on the spot," Doyle said. "These are grown men and women. So never underestimate what just a job can mean to somebody who has no hope."

Doyle started the company just over a year ago. After working for President Bill Clinton and Senator Joe Biden, Doyle was assigned to a task force investigating corruption in Afghanistan. He says he was dismayed by how much money was spent on foreign aid compared to help allotted for returning veterans.

"These folks are living in their cars and we're building a billion dollars' worth of power plants that don't work," he said. "Doesn't sit right with me."

With no experience with silk-screening, Doyle set up shop and recruited workers at homeless shelters. He says he wants to expand and hire more jobless vets.

"You don't have to be the President," he said. "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."

You can get a closer look at the operation during Chicago Ideas Week. On Sunday, October 19th, Rags of Honor is hosting a lab that will allow you to design and print your own t-shirt. There also other talks related to veterans, life after service and military defense of the future.

Veterans: Life after Service
Monday, October 13, 2014
12:00PM - 1:00PM
Morningstar
For more information and tickets: https://www.chicagoideas.com/events/434


Military: Defense of the Future
Monday, October 13, 2014
4:00PM - 5:30PM
Cadillac Palace Theatre
For more information and tickets: https://www.chicagoideas.com/talks/97

Rags of Honor: Silk Screening for Good
Sunday, October 19, 2014
2021 West Fulton St., K102
Chicago, IL 60612
2:00PM - 5:00PM
For more information and tickets: https://www.chicagoideas.com/events/433

Complete schedule, tickets and information:
https://www.chicagoideas.com/years/2014/schedule
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