The Empowerment Plan

This article first appeared on Benojo on January 25, 2016.

The Empowerment Plan is an inspirational not-for-profit in Detroit working to help the homeless in two key ways – by supporting those doing it tough on the streets and providing employment to those formerly homeless or living in shelters.

Saving lives and offering employment

CEO and founder Veronika Scott established The Empowerment Plan in 2011. Cassie Coravos, Business and Communications Manager at The Empowerment Plan, says: “In short, Veronika was studying Industrial Design at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit. Her class assignment was to ‘design something that fills a need’. She chose to work with shelters in the area to find a product that could help people who were homeless. She went to a warming centre, the Neighborhood Service Organization, three times a week for five months. She worked closely with the individuals to figure out what they needed. That’s how she came up with the idea for the EMPWR coat and then later the realisation that the more important need is employment, not coats.”

The Empowerment Plan’s mission is to educate, employ, and empower homeless individuals to create a better life for themselves and their families, while producing a humanitarian product for those in need.

Central to this is the manufacturing of the innovative EMPWR coat. Distributed at no cost to homeless people living on the street, it is a water-resistant and self-heating jacket, which can transform into a sleeping bag at night, and becomes an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use. It takes 3.5 hours to make a coat and costs US$100 to make each.

The Empowerment Plan also employ and train homeless parents from local shelters to become full-time seamstresses (to make the EMPWR coats) so they can earn a stable income, move out of the shelter and into their own homes and get back on their feet.

The power of empowerment

“Empowering individuals is central to our work,” says Coravos. “We estimate that each coat reduces at least one emergency visit in its lifespan, which is an average cost of about US$4,200 per hospital visit. Beyond that, we believe our real impact isn’t from the coat itself, but from who we are employing to make the coats. We offer real, full-time employment, so that each individual can move out of the shelter permanently and can gain financial independence while acquiring skills on the job.”

Since 2012, Coravos says The Empowerment Plan has:

  • Distributed our sleeping bag coats to more than 10,000 people in need across 30 states, five Canadian provinces and New Zealand, Australia, and France.
  • Provided employment to 30 people, including 10 who have graduated on to other jobs.
  • Assisted every one of our employees in permanently moving out of the shelter.
  • Positively impacted 75 children now growing up in stable homes.

Creating positive change

“It’s been an incredible year for us,” says Coravos of 2015. “We have such an amazing community that supports us through outreach events, fundraising opportunities, press coverage, grants, and donations. All of which helps us get more coats out to those that need them and provide employment opportunities to those who want them.”

“In 2015 we are on track to distribute 6,500 coats. We raised over $140,000 at our annual event in November,” she says. “Our numbers are constantly changing, but here are a few current numbers we are proud of – we currently employ 21 seamstresses; 20 of our seamstresses are in their own homes and our newest hire will be soon; 18 of our 21 seamstresses have their own cars; and we have seven ladies currently in our GED program [a high-school equivalency test].”

Image: Angel at work. Courtesy of Brian Kelly/The Empowerment Plan