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Nonprofit Draws Youth through Peer-to-Peer Recruiting

Posted on Sep 10, 2012 | 1 comment

"After reading Rebecca's article on Dry Hootch I had to learn more about this Innovative nonprofit Coffee House. We have an awesome interview lined up with the founder and the Vice President which will be in our next Issue ,In the Mean time enjoy this short intro to an innovative nonprofit".

Ray Souder:

By Rebekah Voss 9/09/12

One of the biggest challenges facing many nonprofit organizations today isn’t winning grants or maintaining funding sources – it’s attracting a younger generation of volunteers, employees, and sponsors. Dry Hootch, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit benefiting veteran and their families, has an active community of young men and women under 30, some of whom hold high positions within the organization.   So how did Dry Hootch entice these Gen Y’ers to get involved?

In 2008, a Milwaukee group of Vietnam veterans began selling coffee out of a tent to connect with Generation Starbucks. Their goal was to reach out to young men and women returning from deployment in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As the organization grew, Dry Hootch opened up a permanent coffeehouse in a trendy Milwaukee neighborhood near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus. But the place itself was not enough to get young people involved, the coffee shop patrons were contemporaries of their middle-aged founders.

Since the entire goal of the organization was to help young veterans returning from war, connecting with those veterans was imperative. One of the biggest difficulties came as the founders realized that the vets who needed the most help with challenges like PSTD were also the ones least likely  seeking help. Dry Hootch’s president, Bob Curry, began hiring veterans from the local university to work in the coffee shop and encouraging them to spread the word to their friends and classmates. Young people began to trickle in for coffee, which lead to their involvement in group support sessions, job help and drug and alcohol counseling. Curry promoted several of his student workers to Peer Support Specialists, and encouraged them to recruit young veterans to join the Dry Hootch family.

Tom Voss, the organization’s current Vice President, began as a barista in the coffee shop, and within a year was assisting Curry with daily operations, creative development, and organizational expansion. Voss, a 28-year old army veteran who served in the Iraq war from 2004-2005, was able to draw upon his connections with fellow UW-Milwaukee students to reach out to younger veterans. The opportunity to interact with someone who understood what they had been through was crucial to growing the youth population of Dry Hootch. Since Voss’s appointment in 2011, the nonprofit has emerged as a thriving community of veteran volunteers and employees, over half of which are under the age of 35.

Dry Hootch successfully grew their nonprofit’s youth population by recruiting volunteers and hiring employees who perfectly embodied the demographic they wished to recruit.  By doing so, they not only gained the benefit of their young staff’s ideas and insights; they were automatically connected to the entire social network of each person they hired. The investment in the salary of one or two young employees could give limitless opportunities to increase youth involvement in your nonprofit.


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