It has been six years since College for Creative Studies student Veronika Scott came up an innovative coat that could not only provide warmth, but also storage and a sleeping bag for people who were going through homelessness, and her company has grown by leaps and bounds.
When she began The Empowerment Plan, she had a coat, some ideas and a few employees. Today, she has more than 35 people going to work every day. Together, they have produced more than 30,000 coats that are being used in all 50 states and 16 countries, including the United States and Canada. What she needed next was room to grow.
Recently, Scott gave a tour of the new Empowerment Plan space on Kercheval in Detroit. Formerly housed in Ponyride in the city’s Corktown neighborhood, The Empowerment Plan was getting by on about 5,000 square feet. Now, it has 21,000 square feet of custom space that will not only allow for the coat and sleeping bag production part, but also the job and skills training that the business does.
It took about two years to find this new building, months to build it to suit the company and its needs, as well as time to move in all the supplies, sewing machines and related equipment, Scott said. The result is a building where The Empowerment Plan can grow and people will learn and, hopefully, one day find another job in a field they want to try.
The Empowerment Plan also needed room to take on more workers, more donations and more storage space, especially when she gets donations from other businesses that have fabric or insulation-type materials that they can use in the coats. The new location also is adjacent to many projects and services her employees may need, so the new building is ideal in that way as well.
“We wanted a space we could grow into,” Scott said.
Work and skills training
Scott, who has felt the challenges of living on the streets or in shelters, began her coat project as simply that – a way to make coats that would help the homeless. Then a woman who was watching her deliver the coats told her in a not so polite way that she needed a job much more than she needed a coat. Scott took that message and ran with it.
Today, most of The Empowerment Plan’s employees are women who were once in shelters or in homeless situations. Most of them have children; the average employee has three kids, Scott said. They join the company from a variety of situations – some might need to get their high-school diplomas while others may have Master’s degrees. Ages range from 18 to 64. But each one needs help breaking the cycle that got them into a shelter, Scott said.
The Empowerment Plan makes sure employee spend about 60 percent of their time at work, sewing coats and related activities. The rest of the 40 percent is in training – everything from health to finances to education to yoga to computer skills. The goal is to help employees achieve what they need to achieve as individuals to succeed outside of The Empowerment Plan and develop the kind of tools and skills employers want.
These days, Scott said employers are coming to her and asking for workers, many in a variety of fields well beyond sewing. But sewing also is a need that is growing across the region, so there are job in that field as well, she noted.
The Empowerment Plan has a website to take donations to fill its new space, especially items like computers and other things to train workers. The website is https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/empowermentplanholiday18.