‘Puppermaker’ Pride

CHS seniors team up with Transition House students to take handmade dog treat business out of oven, into the community

Camas High seniors Ben Cooke (left) and Keelie LeBlanc (right) cut "Puppermakers" dog treats on Friday, Nov. 17. The two DECA students helped students at the district's Transition House, a program for special needs young adults ages 18 to 21, make and market dog treats to help raise money for Transition House outings and special events.

Keelie LeBlanc smooths a "Puppermakers" label for a bag of handmade, all-natural dog treats inside the Camas High School DECA room on Friday, Nov. 17.

Finished bags of "Puppermakers" dog treats start to stack up in the Camas High DECA room on Friday, Nov. 17. Young adults from the Camas School District's Transition House will sell the treats at local bazaars and festivals to raise money for their group's outings and other special events.

Transition House students Lindsey Meritt, 18, (left) and Gavin Johnson, 19, (center) work with Camas High senior Keelie LeBlanc (right) to package the "Puppermakers" dog treats they made as part of an ongoing fundraiser and job-skills project for the special needs students who attend the Camas School District's Transition House, for ages 18 to 21.

C.C. Bewick, 19, from Transition House, holds an example of the "Puppermakers" dog treats being crafted by Camas School District students and sold to raise money for the CSD's Transition House, which provides life skills to special needs students ages 18 to 21.

The idea was solid enough: Make and sell all-natural pumpkin dog treats to earn a little extra money for their weekly outings outside Camas to places like the grist mill near Woodland and the pumpkin patches on Sauvie Island in Portland.

But, the young entrepreneurs at Camas School District’s Transition House needed a little help pushing their products out into the community.

That’s where Camas High School (CHS) students Ben Cooke and Keelie LeBlanc came in.

The two seniors knew last year that they wanted to do a “chapter project” instead of a “research project” for their senior year DECA class, which concentrates on marketing, management and entrepreneurship skills, but that meant that they needed to find an idea that brought in other DECA members and reached into the greater Camas community.

When they learned that the Transition House, a program that helps special needs students ages 18 to 21 transition from high school to “real world” adulthood, had a dog-treat-making plan that could use a little marketing help, Cooke and LeBlanc jumped.

The CHS seniors have been working with Transition House instructors Laurie and Henry Midles since last spring, but have only recently seen their “Puppermakers” dog treat business start to become a reality.

In September, the seniors went to the Transition House to meet with the nine students there. They taught the young adults about budgeting for ingredients and about marketing their dog treats. Then, they went shopping at the nearby Camas Safeway. Cooke took the young men to search for whole wheat flour, while LeBlanc took the young women on a quest for canned pumpkin and cinnamon.

The groups talked about how much they could spend on each ingredient and the Transition House students realized they had some choices to make. For instance, Cooke says, instead of buying the cheapest flour, the group decided to buy a flour that cost a bit more but fit their needs. And when pumpkin was too pricey, LeBlanc’s group decided to find cheaper canned pumpkin elsewhere.

On Friday, Nov. 17, the Transition House students came to Camas High to work on their third batch of dog treats. Other CHS DECA students joined in the process, rolling out dough, cutting it into dog-bone shapes and inserting trays of dog treats into the ovens inside the DECA room. Cooke and LeBlanc sat with Transition House students at a long table, packing the treats into 2.5-ounce bags and attaching the “Puppermakers” labels the group had designed and made on the DECA label-maker.

The group has already made about 1,000 individual dog treats, which equals roughly 90 bags of treats. They need to create about 300 bags to sell at various bazaars and festivals in December.

The experience has had a positive effect on the two Camas High DECA students, too.

“I think the main thing I learned from this was patience,” Cooke said. “Something that seems simple to us might not be so easy for them.”

LeBlanc nodded at Cooke’s observation: “We needed to learn how to do things in different ways,” she said. “It did teach us how to be more patient.”

Next year, while Cooke goes off to (maybe) Washington State University to study business and communications and LeBlanc heads to one of the colleges recruiting her for volleyball to study psychology and, eventually, law, the Transition House students will be taking the marketing advice the DECA students taught them to heart.

The ultimate hope is to market the treats to local businesses, such as dog groomers and pet shops, to help establish a reliable income source for the Transition House students.

Laurie Midles said having the CHS students help her Transition House young adults with figuring out the marketing specifics has been a big help.

“Once we work all the kinks out, I think this will be a great way to bring some money into the program,” Midles said. “The students are at their job sites every day of the week except Wednesday, and on that day we try to explore beyond the Camas community.”

Profits from the dog treats will help the group with those Wednesday trips and also give the Transition House students valuable job skills, Midles said.

Want to find those “Puppermakers” dog treats for your own pooch? The students will sell them at a few upcoming holiday events, including:

  • Hometown Holidays, from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 1, in downtown Camas; and
  • Holly Days Bazaar, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, at Liberty Middle School, 1612 N.E. Garfield St., Camas.