I believe that investing in a mother has a powerful ripple effect on society.
That is why I founded Empowerment Plan over 6 years ago here in Detroit. Empowerment Plan is a non-profit focused on ending the generational cycle of poverty by employing and training homeless parents to manufacture sleeping bag coats for those in need.
More than 550,000 people experience homelessness on a given night in the United States and roughly 10,000 live in Michigan.
Homelessness is many things. Among them, it is a cycle. A cycle in which becoming trapped is all too easy. Those who are homeless often become stuck living on the streets, in a shelter, or in a housing program. They become trapped, not just for years but also for generations, raising their children, and their children’s children, in the same situation.
Can you imagine applying for a job with no permanent place of residence? Reliable transportation? Childcare? Or recent work experience? And without a network of people to support you, how can you truly expect to make a sustained effort on your own? The odds against you can seem insurmountable.
I have felt this cycle firsthand. I am called to the work I’m doing now because as a child I grew up in a situation of poverty and homelessness with my family. Both of my parents struggled with addiction, maintaining a job, and their mental health. My siblings and I were looked at as a worthless extension of my parents and doomed to repeat their life of struggle.
As a student in college faced with a daunting class project, I set out to create an opportunity I wished my own family had been given. Initially, this opportunity took the form of a coat—a coat that could turn into a sleeping bag. Pursuing this, I designed that coat not only for individuals but also with them, spending months in shelters across Detroit.
The spark that turned my coat project into what has become Empowerment Plan was a homeless woman. I had worked with her for months and one day she yelled at me and told me that the coats we were making meant nothing, that she needed a job, not a jacket.
She made me realize that the coat on its own is just a band-aid for a systemic issue, and what would make an impact would be hiring those that would need a coat in the first place. It was at that moment I decided to hire parents from shelters across Detroit to manufacture the coats in an effort to help families break that vicious cycle of poverty and become financially secure.
In the years since 2012, when Empowerment Plan first started, we have built up our programs and dramatically extended our reach.
We have provided employment to more than 60 low-income individuals, impacted over 150 children, and manufactured and distributed more than 30,000 sleeping bag coats globally. Our biggest growth step came early this year, when we moved into a permanent home with a complete manufacturing facility totaling 21,000 square feet on the eastside of Detroit!
By pairing full time employment with a wide range of supportive services, we have helped dozens of individuals achieve financial stability and independence for the whole family. Our holistic approach addresses everything from housing and childcare to transportation, education and more.
It is because of this model and the strength of those we employ, that every single person has moved out of the shelter within the first 4-6 weeks of working with us and not one has returned to homelessness once we’ve hired them.
Everyone at Empowerment Plan has changed the lives of many families experiencing homelessness and has been committed to breaking the cycle of poverty for countless more. By providing an opportunity and serving as a stepping stone to stability, we are proving that homelessness is not a life sentence nor the legacy one leaves behind.
In the world we see, women, children and families living in poverty are no longer victims. Instead, they are the architects of their own future. They are educated. They are employed. And they are empowered.
“This is the first job that has given me a sense of self-worth and value. I feel like I am part of something bigger and feel a sense of support and community when I come to work.”
– Sherika Lane, Seamstress
Veronika Scott is a Detroit Social Entrepreneur and founder of the Empowerment Plan. A non-profit organization that focuses on ending the cycle of generational poverty through employment that has impacted over 30,000 people globally.
Photo: The Empowerment Plan