After years of long days and multiple military deployments overseas, Theodore Proia was in search of a fresh start.
Proia, an Elkridge resident, was looking for a new line of work that would allow him to spend more time with his family while keeping the mission of service to others alive.
In November, he found his answer: Proia, 33, opened JDog Junk Removal & Hauling in Elkridge, bringing the nationwide franchise to Howard County. JDog offers junk removal services as well as upholstery and carpet cleaning in 27 states and Washington, D.C.
“It was a little scary quitting everything I knew to start a brand-new business in the middle of the [coronavirus] pandemic,” Proia said. “A lot of people thought this was crazy — starting this in a pandemic — but [my wife and I] knew if we got this started right here and right now, we knew there wasn’t any hurdle we couldn’t accomplish.”
Proia was 17 years old when he first started his military service by joining the Marine Corps. He spent the next eight years in the Marines and the years that followed in the Maryland National Guard and working private security.
“Those hours are so long; I was hardly ever home,” he said. “It got to be too much. I was missing too much; that’s why we were looking for the change. It took us a while to find the right fit, but JDog was definitely the right fit.”
Though it’s been 16 years since he first joined the military, Proia said he still brings the same commitment and work ethic he has learned to whatever work he does, a principle that aligns with JDog’s mission and one of the reasons he said he was instantly interested in the opportunity.
According to its website, one of JDog’s aims is to provide opportunities for successful careers outside of military service to veterans and military family members.
That was something that stood out to Proia’s wife, Melissa, too.
When her husband began the search for a new line of work in 2020, Melissa, 31, helped search for a career that would allow him to spend more time with the family and keep him closer to home.
“When he first brought it up about starting his own business, it was definitely scary,” Melissa Proia said. “But it’s more than just JDog and junk removal; it’s about building that military and veteran community.”
That’s also what drew Karl Kalenowsky to JDog. Kalenowsky, who comes from a family of veterans, works as the main truck driver for the Elkridge branch.
A mission to serve and instilled work ethic brought the values from Kalenowsky’s upbringing into the workplace.
“That sense of ethics and work ethic, doing the right thing, giving it your all, it’s very much the same as when I was growing up with my parents,” the 28-year-old Glen Burnie resident said. “[JDog tries] to hire veterans and people who come from that background to be on the same page because we have the same work ethic.”
When the Elkridge franchise first started back in November, Kalenowsky said a lot of their first jobs were veterans hiring them for work.
“[JDog] understands the mission and think[s] it’s great work,” he said. “[Veterans are] happy to see it’s growing and doing well, and they want us to come back. The veteran community in Howard is supportive.”
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There’s currently no brick-and-mortar location for the operation. Proia said he has a dump truck, a storage unit and three employees for now.
“This is three more people who have jobs. We’re proud to say that,” Proia said, speaking of the unemployment difficulties that have arisen since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Both Proia and the national franchise are on a mission to get the veteran unemployment rate down to 1% in the United States, particularly now as even more individuals have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. As of January, the unemployment rate among veterans was 4.9%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In general, junk removals range from the emptying of a home after a death to a resident looking for a specific item to be removed, Proia said.
Proia said his franchise’s rate of calls has also been steadily increasing. In the first month, they answered 15 or 20 calls; in January, he said they did 60.
When Proia and his team clean out salvageable property, he said they do their best to donate what they can. So far this year they’ve donated at least 15 sofas to individuals and groups in Howard.
“If stuff has life, there’s no reason to put it in the landfill,” he said. “We want to do our part to be as sustainable as possible. It’s good for the environment to keep things out of the landfill and it’s good for families.”