‘Dayton Strong’ in time of adversity

UD alum Danielle Ruffolo poses with a Handy Hat – a product that she created her sophomore year. Ruffolo has been creating Dayton-themed hats as a sign of unity in times of crisis. Photos in article courtesy of Ruffolo

Kaitlin Lewis    
News Staff Writer

A UD alum and young entrepreneur is using her product to strengthen the Dayton community during a time of uncertainty due to COVID-19.

2019 grad Danielle Ruffolo created the product Handy Hats her sophomore year as part of a project for her entrepreneur course. Her ball caps come with a small pocket on the inside to hold cash, cards, keys, lip balm – anything you might need on the go. 

The product has grown beyond her classroom, and Ruffolo now runs Handy Hats on her own while also working as a marketing assistant in Cincinnati. In response to the heartbreaking summer of 2019 that Dayton faced, as well as the pain felt from the cancelation of the NCAA tournament this spring, Ruffolo has decided to do her part to remind the Dayton community that unity is powerful during the hardest times of life.

Handy Hats first worked to build community in August 2019 in response to the shooting in the Oregon District. Ruffolo designed hats with the words “Dayton strong” to remind the city to rally together in a time of need. All of the profits made from these hats were donated to the Dayton Foundation, which at the time was collecting money for those injured from the Oregon shooting or for the families of those whose lives were lost. 

Ruffolo created a second “Dayton strong” design in time for the NCAA tournament.

Ruffolo said that her inspiration sparked from the realization that when the situation you’re in cannot be controlled, “what you can control is your attitude and your outlook on things.”

“Because of this terrible thing, we can rally together,” Ruffolo said. “If you see anyone wearing that hat and you see ‘Dayton strong,’ you know what that stands for and the support behind that.”

The theme of support continued come springtime, as the No. 3 Dayton Basketball team approached tournament play. Ruffolo wanted to make a hat that celebrated what the team had accomplished so far and even discussed some of her design ideas with UD President Eric Spina before making a final decision. 

The verdict was to create something that, once again, had a message of unity. This led to the creation of the Dayton Strong hat ‘part 2,’ this time featuring the official Dayton athletics logo. Similar to the first design, 10 percent of the proceeds from this hat will be donated to the Dayton Foundation. Ruffolo wanted to see the same powerful message fill the stands as UD men’s basketball took on the National Championship.

“Again, when you see it, it shows the unity and the power of the Dayton community,” Ruffolo said.

Ruffolo’s vision, however, did not come true this year after March Madness was canceled due to COVID-19. With a short turn-around from her latest Dayton Strong design, Ruffolo used the same theme of unity (and a little bit of humor) to create her “UnDisputed Champions” design, equipped with the words “2020 National Champions” on the backside. While we may not have gotten to play in the tournament this year, Ruffolo didn’t think we were out of reasons to celebrate.

“We didn’t even get a chance to go to the tournament,” Ruffolo said. “But we still have these amazing students.”

UD’s mascot Rudy Flyer poses with Handy Hat’s “UnDisputed Champs” design.

There’s not a lot certainty nowadays, but one thing that remains is Dayton’s commitment to unity, and Handy Hats is a great example of our community’s spirit continuing to grow even in adversity. Ruffolo, like all of us, is thrown out of routine but doesn’t let it stop her passion to create.

“I’m learning a new norm,” Ruffolo said. “You have to have a positive outlook on it.”

You can purchase the hats here

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