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Real Story: She Invented A Coat To Help The Homeless And Did Even More

Real Story: She Invented A Coat To Help The Homeless And Did Even More

Veronika Scott possesses wisdom far beyond her years. Although she is only 26, Scott has already crafted her career path. She’s found her purpose and projects her sense of self-worth on to those in need of a gentle reminder. The Empowerment Plan is the brainchild of Veronika Scott. As founder and CEO, she empowers others to make a difference; a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

College Assignment Turned Career Path

It all began while she attended college in Detroit. Scott was assigned a project that would soon change her life forever. The assignment was part of a product design class and the purpose was to create something that solved a real world problem. The point was to focus on something that was applicable to society.

It was at this time that a visionary idea came to light. Scott came up with a unique jacket design that would be given to homeless people during the harsh winter months. The idea was for the coats to be made of highly insulated yet lightweight material. The back section of the coat is double layered. This double layer folds down after being pulled down and extends into a fully functional sleeping bag.

jacket

    Jacket design by The Empowerment Plan

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    The success of her unique coat design was a real accomplishment. Scott was often times referred to as the ‘Coat Lady’ by complete strangers. It became evident that this class project was becoming something that was legitimately helpful to a multitude of people. As Scott moved forward in life and graduated, she never forgot this class project or any of the vividly lit up faces to which she had helped provide a ‘security blanket’ for.

    Scott asked homeless people in Detroit what they thought about her jacket design, firsthand. The majority were supportive and excited. It was during one of these accounts that a homeless woman yelled: “We don’t need coats, we need jobs.” This person who spoke up on the issue was completely right. And thus the real second wave of the Empowerment Plan was born!

    Phase Two of The Empowerment Plan

    This request was not ignored by Scott. She was on a mission to help however she could and the most ideal means were to help provide a place for homeless people to work. Upon graduating, Veronika decided to further her efforts and expand The Empowerment Plan. In an interview with The Great Disconnect, Veronika was asked:

    “What was the transition like from graduating to actually creating this business?”

    Her response:

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    “It was a gradual transition that started with a meeting with Mark Valade, the CEO of Carhartt. I showed him my first, very well-designed business plan, which didn’t have much content to it, but it was very pretty. He funded it and invested in the materials and machinery that I would need to get started.

    Because of that, I had to do a lot of things quickly. Stage one was finding a place to put everything that Mark had just donated to me. What was interesting is that we found a space in the NSO shelter building: it was a closet that we painted green and put up a wall of cork in. It was so small that we couldn’t even build a full coat in it! It was a great start, though.

    The next stage was realizing that I was never going to be a seamstress. It didn’t make sense for me to make one coat each week; it wasn’t a sustainable idea, and it sounded like torture. I found a sewing teacher, but then had to find people for her to teach so we could start making coats. When we started looking for people to hire, 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.” I interviewed five people the first day, which was a surreal experience because I had never been on the other side of the interview table! A few people showed up; one woman came two hours early. I hired two people: Sig Sig and Elisha. They are both amazing individuals, and the work they did in the first six months pushed the company to become what it is now.

    Aside from financial support from Carhartt, we had only been funded by a tiny PayPal donation button on the site—that helped pay for both of the ladies’ salaries for nine months. I never had to ask for money; people contributed, and it was amazing. I didn’t get paid, but those two ladies did, and I had enough gas money to get to the shelter.

    It was astounding to see what Sig Sig and Elisha did with each of their salaries. They both worked the same hours and got paid the same, but Sig Sig didn’t have any children or family; Elisha did. Within three months, Elisha had moved out of the shelter permanently, found her own apartment, got it furnished, had her three kids enrolled in a charter school, and started her youngest on learning Japanese. During that same three-month period, Sig Sig was kicked out of the shelter, sleeping in her car, and had stopped showing up to work. I’m not saying anything bad about Sig Sig’s character; I had hired her right after she had gotten out of a decade in prison, and she was having a hard time adjusting.

    That experience made me think about who I needed to hire. I had to hire somebody who was going to show up to work not just because they needed money, but because they needed to put food on the table for their kids; someone who needed to know where they were going to sleep that night so that they could take care of their family. People told me, “You’re never going to get a homeless person to show up to work,” but I did. I did it by hiring parents who wanted a better life for their kids and, at the end of the day, that was the motivator for them. We now employ 15 women who were all previously or are currently homeless.”

    Scott proves that people in unfortunate situations can turn their lives around. She decided that simply creating a jacket that helps the homeless brave inclimate weather was not enough. At that time she decided to give these people what they truly desired: a chance at rejoining the workforce. A chance at regaining the comforts many take for granted; a fresh start.

    Nonprofits can lower crime and homelessness rates through the help of communities and the creation of jobs. This was the forefront of an expansion of The Empowerment Plan.

    Ideas like The Empowerment Plan are excellent ways to help those that are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. These types of nonprofits are great alternatives to the circulatory nature of homeless shelters and may even segue into effective alternatives to incarceration. Those individuals don’t need to be criminalized that’s simply hurting not helping. They need consistency and a realistic job that pays a livable wage.

    Veronika Scott is not any ordinary entrepreneur, she’s a social entrepreneur who’s main focus has remained constant since that motivational college project. Her kind heart and unique ideas have created a useful item that has since gained much reach across the United States and Canada. The Empowerment Project has produced over 6000 coats this year and have made over 9000 since 2011.

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    Upon reflecting on the incredible achievements of Veronika Scott, I was highly motivated to make a difference in my own community. The following are some ways that anyone can help through volunteer efforts.

    1. Volunteer Your Skills

    Everyone has some type of hobby or special skill that they enjoy. Do you shred the guitar? Consider giving free guitar lessons to youth in need. Do you love reading poetry? Project that to the world and organize poetry workshops in your free time. It doesn’t matter what the skill or hobby is; the special knowledge you possess is something that can fuel desires of those who are unfamiliar with what you love to do. Who knows, maybe people will be so motivated by you that they will one day love your favorite hobby as much as you do?

    2. Volunteer Your Time

    Sometimes people don’t want to focus as much on their unique skills for volunteering. In some cases simply volunteering your time is the most helpful approach. Tasks like directing traffic/parking at nonprofit events, serving food at soup kitchens, or spending time with animals in need at animal shelters are all ways to delegate your extra time. Sometimes these tasks may seem monotonous. Just know that when you volunteer your time, you’re helping complete tasks that usually are in deficits. A little bit of your spare time really goes a long ways.

    3. Random Acts of Kindness

    When was the last time you did something completely random and unselfish? Some ideas of random acts of kindness include: putting change in a strangers expired parking meter, buying the person behind you in line at a coffee shop their drink, or leaving a friendly note to a coworker on a whim. It can also be as simple as giving someone the type of day that they deserve. Random compliments are also great, when delivered in a tasteful and appropriate manner.

    4. Open Your Doors To Those In Need

    This is not the easiest thing to do, as most people really need their own space in order to stay mentally healthy. However in times of genuine need, opening your doors for someone to live with you temporarily and get back on their feet is extremely helpful and kind. Keep in mind there is a big difference between helping someone and being taken advantage of. It’s also important to make sure that you’re not getting yourself in an unwanted or unsafe situation. Keep couch surfers reserved to close friends and relatives in need.

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    Robert Parmer

    Freelance Writer

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2019

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

    In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Step right up, don’t be shy!

    Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

    The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

    Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

    Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
    So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

    A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

    Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

    Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

    When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

    Culturally Conditioned

    We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

    I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

    The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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    Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

    Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

    Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

    1. Broadens Your Network

    After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

    2. Improves Your Communication Skills

    I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

    Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

    3. Continually Learning

    So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

    Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

    4. Increases Self Confidence

    Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

    Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

    So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

    How to Talk to Strangers

    Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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    1. Say Hello

    Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

    Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

    Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

    2. Ask About Them

    Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

    You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

    As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

    3. Just Do It

    One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

    When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

    Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

    4. Don’t Take It Personal

    One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

    When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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    5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

    I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

    One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

    6. Detach

    A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

    Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

    7. Share Your Stories

    Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

    To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

    So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

    8. Give a Compliment

    Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

    When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

    9. Relax Your Body Language

    If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

    When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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    If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

    10. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

    After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

    The Bottom Line

    As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

    There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

    Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

    More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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