Saturday, March 29, 2014

Empowerment Plan - Veronika Scott, empowering the homeless one stitch at a time...

As a product design student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Veronika Scott developed a heavy-duty, lightweight coat that turned into a sleeping bag, as part of a class project. It seemed like the perfect product to help homeless people, until a woman in a shelter shouted at Scott one day: “We don’t need coats; we need jobs.”
In January 2012, a month after graduation, Scott launched the Empowerment Plan, a nonprofit that employs homeless women and teaches them to sew by making the coat. With stable, paying jobs, they’re empowered to decide what kind of job they want next, “to decide what kind of person they want to become,” she said.
It wasn’t easy for Scott: She was an art student, not a businesswoman, and her family wanted her to find a more traditional job.
“I didn’t think I was the right person,” she said. “But I recognized at that moment that I was, because nobody else was going to do it.”
Skeptics said homeless women wouldn’t be solid employees. It wasn’t a problem, Scott says: She found many women hungry for good jobs. But they didn’t always understand that it was OK to fail, so long as they learned to fix their mistakes.
Few women she hires know how to sew, Scott says, but within a few months, they can create a coat in hours.
Since launching in a homeless shelter closet with just a few people, the Empowerment Plan now employs 20 people. Every month, they make 550 coats, which are distributed for free to homeless people in Detroit and through outreach programs across the country. Production is limited only by space, but that is set to change soon: The Empowerment Project is expanding beyond its 3,000 square feet inside Ponyride, a creative workspace in a Detroit warehouse.
This year, The Empowerment Plan expects to launch a “buy one, give one” program that will make it sustainable beyond the donations and sponsorships that keep it running now. Hunters and backpackers who’ve asked to buy the coat will be able to do so, and the Empowerment Plan will still create coats for homeless people who need them.
More important, Scott says, the Empowerment Plan will be hiring.