People call Veronika Scott the Coat Lady, and that’s a nickname she’s proud of. Veronika is the founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit nonprofit dedicated to helping people break the cycle of poverty and homeless, all while making coats.
While in design school, the Detroit native was assigned a project to design something that “filled a tangible need in the community.” Veronika immediately thought about helping the homeless. With parents who struggled with addiction and unemployment, she grew up in poverty and knew what it was like to be looked down on by society and how hard it can be to dig yourself out.
In an effort to learn first-hand what might help the local homeless community, she spent time at a nearby warming center where people living on the streets could go to get out of the frigid Michigan winters. That’s where she came up with the idea for the EMPWR coat, and where she got her nickname.
The EMPWR coat is designed not just to keep the wearer warm, it’s also durable – made to last multiple seasons, water repellant, and transforms into a sleeping bag. Rolled up, the coat can be easily carried over the shoulder when not in use.
Long after the class project ended, Veronika was still regularly at the warming center, working on prototype coats when one of the regulars approached her and said angrily, “I don’t need a coat, I need a job!”
That interaction opened Veronika’s eyes to the bigger picture – a coat solves the immediate need of keeping someone warm, but does not help getting them into a situation where they don’t have to sleep outside.
Today, Veronka’s company The Empowerment Plan focuses on hiring homeless parents living in shelters. They are trained to sew the coats, made from upcycled materials from companies like Patagonia, Carhartt and General Moters. The coats are distributed to people in need across the country.
But it’s not just a job – the company also provides ongoing educational support. Each employee spends 60% of their time on production and 40% on free supplemental courses like GED classes, financial literacy classes and professional development workshops. Support for mental health issues and domestic violence are also available. The steady income from the job allows the employees to move from a shelter into permanent housing. Workers spend an average of two years earning money and gaining the skills and tools to move on to other employment, which then opens up spots for more homeless workers. Not one employee has fallen back into homelessness since the start of the program.
What an amazing program, and what an impact Veronika is having on the world. She is using her talents to help homeless people around the country be sheltered and warm with the EMPWR coat, but is also having such a direct, profound impact on people – and families – in her community. What a beautiful life of purpose!
Learn more about The Empowerment Plan and the EMPWR Coat at EmpowermentPlan.org.
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications