Veronika Scott has been commended a great deal over the past few years for her nonprofit, the Empowerment Plan, which produces combination coats/sleeping bags for Detroit's homeless. She's also won some big investments. But what's really special about the Empowerment Plan isn't what they make, but how they make it.
The nonprofit creates coats designed for those who are homeless and living on the streets in cold weather. Scott's big innovation is to employ the same people she seeks to serve.
Scott first had the idea for what would become the Empowerment Plan when she was asked to create something that people really needed in a product design class.
"The big moment was seeing a playground 20 feet away from a [homeless] shelter, and this playground had been made into someone's home," Scott tells The Huffington Post in a video interview. "Why would somebody do that when a shelter, a free shelter, somewhere you can walk in and sit for hours during the worst of the weather, is 20 feet away?"
Like everyone else, people who live on the streets have pride in themselves and desire independence, Scott explains. They don't want to have to depend on anyone else for their wellbeing. So she designed a coat that could double as a sleeping bag for Detroit's homeless. There are around 20,000 counted homeless in Detroit alone, Scott explains, and 3.5 million homeless people in the U.S.
But while the coat offered those living outside a bit more comfort and safety, her business wasn't right yet.
"I remember taking a coat back to the shelter that I designed the coat in, and this woman literally is screaming at me. She goes up to me and says, 'We don't need coats ... we need jobs. What do you think you're doing? This is pointless.'"
It was at that point that Scott decided to start hiring people living in homeless shelters to work for her company.
Everyone she hires is a single parent, Scott says. One of them is Teia Sams, a seamstress at Empowerment Plan. "I love my job. I love what I do. I love my boss. It's great," says Sams.
"In three months, Teia's gone from living in a shelter here in Detroit to her own house, and getting all of her kids back and living with her again," Scott says. "Because I found the right people, they prove that this model can exist, and that it works, and that my idea isn't just a nice idea."
Watch the video above to learn more about Scott and the Empowerment Plan.