The Empowerment Plan – coats and jobs for homeless people

The Empowerment Plan logo

The Empowerment Plan started off as a class project.

Of course it wasn’t as easy as snapping your fingers to make it work. It took a while for it to actually kick off.

Veronika_ScottVeronika Scott, the founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan, studied industrial design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. A Humanitarian group called Project H sponsored the product design class that she was taking. As usual, different students had different internships but she decided to focus on design and identity.

Once Project H walked into their studio, they said, “You need to go out and talk to people; we want you to focus on the needs of the city.” So, this was what they did. They spoke to many people to find out what issues Detroit actually has. One of the continuous problems that was mentioned was that there were homeless people everywhere.

So, Veronika and her grandpa started doing research in to various shelters when she came across one called Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO).

The head of the NSO shelter pushed her in front of a group of homeless people, the group started swearing because they were upset that she was ruining their evening. Veronika said “I’m broke, living with my grandparents, and I really need your help with my class project.” The homeless were allowed to be in the NSO facilities only eight hours at a time before the next group came in, and they were not allowed to sleep there, but only watch TV or to rest.

After leaving the shelter, Veronika returned once more and this is when she really found out the reality about NSO and what the homeless people really thought about it. They called it “HELL”. She saw a corner close to the shelter which was used as a home for two people. Next week she went back there, that corner was completely destroyed and burned down in a turf war. The cruel reality Veronika found out was that life for homeless people is not only about meeting the physical needs, but also the emotional needs which they were lacking. Need for feeling independent and self-reliance. They want to be able to take care of themselves. But the street law is that you do what ever you can do achieve it. That was what first inspired Veronika to create the coat.

Her first Frankenstein-like coat took her 80 hours to make and turned into an awful 20 pound monstrosity that smelt funny and was rough all-around, but as a prototype she was proud of it. The feedback from NSO was that it looked like a body bag.

Veronika made several versions of the coat but they all looked horrible because, as she recognized, she didn’t have much of a sewing talent. Eventually she was known in the streets as “The Coat Lady”.

For around two years it was just a class project for her. The day she made the decision of actually creating a company was the day after Veronika Scott graduated. It sure was a tough decision for her to make but once she decided to do so, there was no turning back. She decided not to apply for any jobs.

It was Mark Valade, the CEO of Carhartt, who decided to invest in the project after seeing Veronika’s business plan. He funded and invested in the whole project, materials and machinery so that she could get started.

As the next step she had to find a location where to kick it all off. The location she found was in the NSO shelter building, which was really handy. Though it was a small place, it was a start.The head of the NSO shelter said, “You know, we have hundreds of people who would come to volunteer with you if they just had the opportunity to do something every day.” So they started interviewing people. The first hires were Sig Sig and Elisha. They were the people who took the company to become what it is now, and in as little as six months.

Currently The Empowerment Plan employ 22 previously homeless individuals (and have employed 30 to date).

The functionalities of EMPWT coats are: water-resistant, durable jacket, which can transform into a sleeping bag, or be worn as an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use.

Right now they offer a variety of programs to help seamstresses grow in all areas of their lives, not just professionally. They have a full time programs manager and a social worker. They offer GED classes, financial literacy, professional development, math tutoring, and more.

The product we make serves a critical need in the community, and at the same time it could stand on the shelf of any store and it wouldn’t need the story of who made it to sell,

The Empowerment Plan expects to produce and sell 3,500 of the 2016 limited-edition coats beginning in October, initially through Kickstarter and then through their own website, with new, limited editions produced each year for a yet-to-be-determined price.

The goal for the company by 2020 is to be known more for its employment and education program and job placement. Also to rotate 600 people through its employment and education program. This would be the boost for formerly homeless employees in Detroit to other living-wage jobs in the community.

Currently the company collaborates with the community through their distribution efforts. Two organizations they partner with are the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) and Humble Design.

Awards so far:

Clinton Global Initiative

2016 Acknowledgement of Commitment to Action

Ernst & Young

2015 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards

2015 – 6 Core Principles: Giving Award

Forbes

2015 – 30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs

Diller von Furstenberg Family Foundation

2014 DVF People’s Voice Award

Crain’s Detroit Business

2013 “Crain’s 20 In Their 20’s”

The Detroit Pistons

2013 Impact Award

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library And Museum

2012 New Frontier Award Recipient – Veronika Scott

Industrial Designers of America

2011 IDEA Gold Award

Check out “Gotta Keep Dreamin”, a documentary created by Grammy-award winner Michael Bolton on the rich history, culture, and community of Detroit (not yet released) trailer where The Empowerment Plan is part of. Check out the trailer HERE

A small project that started in class for Veronika Scott, has made a huge difference to so many lives. The lives of people who had lost their hope in everything and some of them basically had given up on everything. The Empowerment Plan has turned into a real inspiration for many people and is a leader in good deeds. I really admire Veronika Scott and all she has done to the community.  

Meelis Paloson

Meelis Paloson

Founder at Meanwhiler.me
I'm the Founder of Meanwhiler.me. Originally I'm from a tiny country called Estonia but I have been living in Barcelona, Spain since summer 2004.

I'm passionate about social media, new technologies, gadgets, business development, healthy cooking, fitness, music and travel. I like spending time walking around and getting inspiration.
Meelis Paloson

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