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 design by The Empowerment Plan
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?”
“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.
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.