ROSS TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Something's brewing in Cincinnati, and a local dog treat manufacturer is growing as a result.
Brewhaus Dog Bones is a nonprofit organization that provides work experience for students with disabilities by manufacturing dog treats.
"There's very little out here in regards to businesses for our kids to get the training that they need," said Ross High School intervention specialist Rose Kappesser.
Having started a Brewhaus Dog Bones program just this school year, Ross is one of the most recent school districts to take advantage of the organization's project-based learning opportunities. Ross' administration building also is the site for one of two school-based commercial kitchens used to produce the nonprofit's treats. The other is located in New Richmond Exempted Village School District.
Lisa Graham founded Brewhaus Dog Bones in October 2014 with the hope of opening up job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
"Being the parent of a child with a disability … I have always been searching or thinking what could I figure out that might be a good employment model or a good way to help teach a skill set," Graham said.
She found her inspiration while vacationing with her daughter in San Diego in 2013. While touring breweries, she noticed that several of them had craft beer dog treats.
"When I did happen upon these dog treats, it was actually like a light bulb going off," Graham said.
Despite the number of microbreweries around Greater Cincinnati, no one seemed to be using the spent grain for dog treats. So, Graham set out to combine the concept with the employment model she'd been hoping for.
"It seemed like a good way to connect all that," she said.
She initially pitched the idea to schools in New Richmond, but as educators in other districts have learned about the organization, she's added more programs. Brewhaus Dog Bones now has programs in more than a dozen districts, including New Richmond, Ross, Mariemont, Sycamore, Mason and Ft. Thomas.
The programs are unique to the individual schools and districts, but they generally are geared toward students with disabilities who are between 18 and 22 years old. The pupils participate in a variety of activities, from preparing and baking the dog treats to managing and delivering orders to area businesses. While her students often are capable of performing skilled jobs, they all too often are offered only custodial work or stocking jobs, Kappesser said. With Brewhaus Dog Bones, students develop math and communication skills through experiences like measuring ingredients, weighing products, forecasting demands and speaking with business partners.
"The main goal for me is, through this process, I hope that these are things they can put on their resume," Kappesser said.
"The whole idea really is to help these young adults to have another tool to work on building a skill set for employment," Graham said.
The school programs aren't the only area where Brewhaus Dog Bones has seen growth lately. The organization, which forged its first partnership with Listermann Brewing Company, now partners with 14 microbreweries, most recently adding Wooden Cask Brewing Company, Municipal Brew Works and Nine Giant.
A grant in March from Braxton Brewing Company also helped expand programming by allowing Graham to rent commercial kitchen space at Findlay Kitchen. The space allows students to participate in producing the dog treats even if their district doesn't have its own commercial kitchen and has provided some opportunities for supported employment for young adults.
In November, Graeter's Ice Cream began carrying Brewhaus Dog Bones treats at all 42 of its locations, increasing the nonprofit's presence around the Tri-State even more.
Graham isn't planning to slow down any time soon. She hopes for the organization to eventually have its own bakery. And while she thinks "dogs are a great social unifier," she doesn't want to leave other pets out of the equation.
"(We're) also going to be working on a cat treat," Graham said. "We have some research and development going on."