T-Shirt Company Gives Life-Changing Opportunities To America’s Heroes

Rags of Honor employee, former Marine Pedro Diaz/CBS

Rags of Honor employee, former Marine Pedro Diaz/CBS

CHICAGO (CBS News) — Thousands of veterans are jobless and homeless in the United States.

The White House says the number of homeless veterans is down 36 percent since 2010, yet nearly 40,000 still roam the streets of the country they defended.

In Chicago, a businessman who never wore the uniform is sacrificing his savings to honor and support those who did, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Albert.

Louie Arroyo is a proud veteran with wounds you can’t see.

He served six years in the Army, and after taking off the uniform in 2002, he soon had no house, no job and no plan.

Arroyo walked Albert past one shelter where he’d lived for six months.

“How was it?” Albert asked.

Arroyo sighed before saying, “I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody.”

After 12 years of homelessness, Arroyo said he struggled to fill the void inside him.

“Fighting and learning that I needed help, it was just very hard for me at that time,” Arroyo said.

That somebody turned out to be Mark Doyle. He’s the founder of a successful forensic accounting firm and spent a year working for the U.S. Army as a civilian in Afghanistan.

When he came back home, he said he realized something just didn’t add up.

“I read story after story about homelessness and suicide rates and alcoholism and the plight of the men and women who’d been on three, four, five deployments.

I decided to make it my mission to go find them and bring them in,” Doyle said.

Doyle found them and led them to a silk-screening business called Rags of Honor that he started for just one purpose: to hire homeless vets.

“How much do you pay these workers?” Albert asked.

“We start them at $12.50 an hour for the first 90 days and then we get them to $15 and our top guys make $19,” Doyle said.

“So you’re paying more than your competitors?” Albert asked.

“Probably $5 an hour more,” Doyle said.

“I’m not a businessman, but that doesn’t sound like smart business,” Albert said.

“It’s not exactly a recipe to, you know, become a millionaire. But you can’t live on $8 an hour. We’re trying to make people have a better life,” Doyle said.

He’s given a better life to 44 veterans so far, including Louie Arroyo, who’s worked the line for nine months.

“These are the division series Chicago Cubs T-shirts that we’re doing,” Doyle said, showing off some freshly printed shirts.

“So you just printed these right now? “ Albert asked.

“We just printed these. We actually printed 4,000 of these in the past four days,” Doyle said.

When the Cubs struck gold this year, so did the company and recent hire Pedro Diaz, a former Marine.

Diaz helps ship out the Rags of Honor merchandise to stores like the flagship NHL Blackhawks store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

Diaz served two tours in Afghanistan before coming home and finding out he didn’t have one.

“Nine months ago, I was at the bottom of it all.

I mean, I was either going to go to jail or end up committing suicide,” Diaz said. ”Every day I see people walking by with the shirts. And it’s like, ‘Wow. I did that shirt. I made that. I helped be a part of that.’”

“There are tens of thousands of people wearing a little piece of what you made on their backs,” Albert said.

“That gives me chills, gives me chills,” Diaz said.

All four major sports leagues now play ball with Rags of Honor. Next year, the company hopes to score $1 million in business for the first time.

But Doyle doesn’t take a salary from his own business.

“So you don’t get any personal benefit from running this business?” Albert asked.

“No financial benefit, that’s for sure,” Doyle said.

“What’s the other benefit?” Albert asked.

“A text from one of my guys saying, ‘You’re like a father to me. Thank you, I’ve never met anyone who’s done so much for me,’” Doyle said.

“And what does that do for you?” Albert asked.

“It actually just gives me the strength to keep plugging through, keep pushing and don’t give up on the mission. Because we’re a long way from this mission being over,” Doyle said.

Alicia Bowen is a single mother of three who started at Rags of Honor two months ago, hoping to save enough money for an apartment.

“How do you look your children in the eye and say that Mom served her country for eight years and now we’re homeless?” Albert asked.

“It was hard, but, you know, children, they tend to understand a lot more than we give them credit to,” Bowen said.

“Pedro’s getting an apartment,” Doyle said. “Louie got an apartment. Alicia’s getting an apartment. We’re going to get them beds. We help them get the things that we take for granted.”

Bowen, a former mapmaker for the Army, finally found her way to a home.

“Oh, my heart is beating fast. OK,” Bowen said nervously, unlocking the door to her apartment for the first time.

“Ah! This is mine!” she screamed as soon as she opened the door into her new home. She moved into the Southside apartment a week after Albert first met her.

“Oh, I’ve been waiting for this. Oh my goodness. My own… Oh my God,” Bowen said, getting emotional.

“We changed the arc of their life forever,” Doyle said. “So if we do that — and we’ve already done it — and we keep doing it, that’s a legacy I’d be proud to be part of.”

It’s a legacy that’s woven into the Rags of Honor motto: “They had our backs. Let’s keep the shirt on theirs.”

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