Coats for the Homeless are Changing the World

What would the world be like if we helped others every day?  In 2010, Veronika Scott was a 20 year old production design student with a plan for doing just that .  She had a class project to build a product that people really needed.  Her idea was a coat that could turn into a sleeping bag. What she created has helped homeless in Detroit not only to survive a cold night, but to thrive and turn their lives around.

Veronika Scott and her coat - Photo courtesy http://detroit2020.com/

Veronika Scott and her coat – Photo courtesy http://detroit2020.com/

Veronika perfected her design and began handing out the coats to those in need in Detroit in 2010. Giving out the coats was helping the homeless stay warm on those cold winter nights when they couldn’t find shelter, but one day someone told her that what people needed weren’t coats, they needed jobs.  This changed Veronika’s whole outlook.  Instead of just keeping people warm, she wanted to empower people to turn their situations around.  So she started hiring the same people she was giving coats to, and taught them how to make the coats.  She trained them in sewing, tailoring, and a number of other transferable skills.

The project is called The Empowerment Plan, and it’s been creating coats for the homeless since 2010. The company hires homeless single parents, like Elisha, the first person ever hired for a job at the Empowerment Plan. When Scott first met Elisha she was living with her children in a crowded homeless shelter in Detroit. 3 months after joining the team Elisha had learned new job skills, was earning money, and best of all, was able to move herself and her family out of the shelter and into their own apartment. The job has led to many great opportunities for Elisha and her family – her children now attend charter schools and her youngest son is learning to speak Japanese.

According to the project, “The focus is to create jobs for those who desire them, and to provide coats at no cost for those who need them.” But it does so much more.  It empowers women to make a change in their lives.

Veronika was told over and over that her company wouldn’t succeed.  Not because her product wasn’t a quality product, but because the women she hired would be almost worthless, that she would be lucky to have anyone show up, let alone make a coat.   She and her staff continue to prove them all wrong.

The Empowerment Plan's Jacket

The Empowerment Plan’s Sleeping Bag Coat

The coats are getting international attention as well. Scott’s design won a 2011 International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. “The truth is Veronika’s garment has great international ramifications,” Imre Molnar, a dean at the College for Creative Studies, told the New York Times. “Her coat could be used by refugees or for disaster relief operations,” he said, adding that the Red Cross has shown interest in the item. “She came up with a great idea that is simple, but well researched. Because of her passion for the homeless, I can’t see her not succeeding.”  And succeed she has.

For more information, or to donate to the Empowerment Plan, visit their website:  http://www.empowermentplan.org/

For more stories of amazing people trying to help the homeless, check out the Doog News story about this street doctor who dresses as a homeless person in order to help provide free medical care, or this young boy who created a charity to help homeless children.

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