It’s Giving Tuesday. What better day to introduce you to a remarkable woman who’s helping other women shine their stars.
You already know that I donate one dollar for each ten I make selling my books to help America’s hungry and the homeless. Recently two things converged to help me learn more about Veronika Scott. My cover designer, Chad Green told me about the Empowerment Plan, and I met Bobby.
Bobby is a homeless man I pass every day as I walk the block and a half between the Metra Station and the “L” train. He’s young, maybe in his late-twenties or early-thirties. He’s small, size 9 1/2 shoes. He has a tiny shamrock tattoo near his right eye. Bobby always greets me a smile and a “have a good day.” At first, I just nodded and passed him by. Before too long, I gave him a sandwich or an apple or orange. I started to pack double. One for me and one for Bobby. It’s getting cold in Chicago, and Bobby didn’t have a warm coat or a blanket. He usually sleeps by the library or under the bridge by the Metra Station.
That’s when I remembered Empowerment Plan and Veronika Scott. Hailey McInnis, 26, Empowerment Plan’s Operations Manager was kind enough to sit down and talk to me about the Non-profit company and Veronika.
Veronika is 28 years old. She experienced periods of homelessness as she grew up near Detroit, MI. Veronika’s mother suffered with different addictions, so Veronica bounced around a lot, sometimes living with her mother in their car, but most of the time with grandparents.
Veronika graduated from College for Creative Studies. Her final project was to create something to fill an actual need. She went from shelter to shelter to find out what people needed. One of the things she discovered was that women did not like to come into the shelters. Veronika designed a coat that can convert to a sleeping bag. It took Veronika months to create her design. I bought one for Bobby. Here’s a photo of Loved-One wearing the coat and pretend-sleeping on our kitchen floor.
See the velcro on at the feet of the sleeping bag? The extension fold up and fastens to the inside of the coat. The coat rolls up like a sleeping bag and the sleeves click together so it can be slung over the shoulder for easy carrying. Genius design.
Veronika loved the idea of turning her design into a non-profit business. She never forgot the angry woman at one warming centers she visited. “I don’t need a coat, I need a job.” But Veronika didn’t have any money, and she didn’t know anyone who did. She went to her college dean, who introduced Veronika to Carhartt CEO, Mark Valade. Mark thought she had a great design. That was in 2012.
“Whatever you need we’ll help you,” Mark said to Veronika.
Carhartt donated $10,000, the fabric, thread, and a sewing machine. Veronika hired her first three seamstresses. The Empowerment Plan was born. The shop they worked in was so small they had to take the coats outside to finish it.
The original coats had the traditional red, Carhartt liner. Sometimes Veronika still sees those coats on the street, even after six years. Carhartts are durable.
The Empowerment Plan hires the homeless and pays a living wage with periodic raises. That translates to $10.50-15.00/hour. Until this year, all the employees were women except those who worked in logistics. Now they have 19 women and five men on staff. Empowerment Plan purchased a new building, so soon their workforce will be 60 people.
Everyone who comes to work at Empowerment Plan is coming from a shelter. They hire through COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter.) From the moment of hire, the Plan is to help get people out of shelters. Usually within a months they are in permanent housing and have transportation. COTS does the vetting process to make sure they are mentally capable of working a 9-5. Empowerment Plan provides day care and helps the employees enroll in free bus-cards.
Although the women and men work a 9-5 day, not all that time is spent sewing. The Plan is to Empower the employees so they can move on to other jobs and they are able to stay out of the system. “There’s not a limit to how long they can work here, but most people don’t want to be a seamstress forever. These women develop goals for their future.”
Every day, if they didn’t graduate from high school, employees take time to work on GED classes. They can also take advantage of drivers’ education, leadership training, financial literacy classes, healthy eating classes and mediation. Empowerment Plan also offers yoga, stretching, and Pilates, which helps with repetitive motion issues the employees might experience.
Empowerment Plan has a pool of money available so that their employees can apply for grants toward higher eduction.
Starting this year, Empowerment Plan is starting a one to three year program to help employees to grow into occupations that they want.
Carhartts continues to support Empowerment Plan with a cutting station, training and fabric. This year General Motors donated materials for the inner lining. Because of the Flint Water Crisis, many people from around the country donated bottled water. GM and John Bradburn, whose sole job it is to turn GM’s waste into something useful, is turning those plastic bottle water bottles into insulated fabric for the coats Empowerment Plan creates.
Since Empowerment Plan’s first days, back when they were in a tiny little shop, Veronika and the women she employs have made over 25,000 coats. Many of them go to people like Bobby.
Bobby loves his coat. I wrapped it up like a Christmas gift, and slipped in a copy of A Ship of Pearl. The next day Bobby stopped me to say thank you. “I didn’t know you were an author,” he said. ” I love Eldie and his adventures. He’s one cool dude.” Bobby calls his coat his lucky coat. It might be, because lately I noticed other people sharing food and supplies with Bobby. A couple of boiled eggs, a new backpack, and some warm boots. CoCo bought him some warm socks, and Miss E wants to give him some new gloves. I’m pretty sure the whole family has plans for Bobby.