In the fourth episode you’ll meet Veronika Scott the social entrepreneur and CEO of The Empowerment Plan. This Detroit-based nonprofit focuses on hiring single parents from local shelters and providing them with training and full-time employment as seamstresses so they can earn a stable income, find secure housing and regain their independence. The Empowerment Plan manufactures coats that meet the needs of those in the homeless community. The durable coat transforms into a sleeping bag at night or an over-the-shoulder-bag when not in use. Scott talks about the light bulb moment for her idea that occurred at just 22 years old, how homelessness isn’t what you think it is and how people can come into your life at just the right time.

This season we’re partnering with Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit whose mission is co-creating independence and dignity through the power of personal and workforce development. Goodwill Detroit works to ensure that every neighborhood of Detroit experiences the kind of renaissance that we’re seeing in downtown and Midtown. We welcome Jessica McCall, the vice president of marketing and external affairs at Goodwill Detroit, as our special co-host. We’re asking listeners to use “#WhatsGoodDetroit“ when you come across something inspiring, notable or just plain good in the city.

We’re recording in the Foundation Studio at Detroit Foundation Hotel. Our official podcast studio is located within the beautiful boutique hotel which is the former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters and Pontchartrain Wine Cellars.

Listen to the full conversation on Apple Podcasts or SimpleCast.

Just a taste…

When I began Empowerment Plan I thought I was the weakest link of the organization. There’s no way in the world someone would want to work with me. The biggest hurdle in the beginning was to settle into the idea that I had created something that could be a business, I was going to have to take it on and push it further and that it was me who was going to have to do that… getting that kind of confidence and understanding that I could do that because I thought that was reserved for a higher class of person. I thought it was for somebody who had money and connections and all the things that I didn’t have… those people who are like, “Oh, yeah, my family gave me a million dollars to start my thing.” I didn’t have that. What do you do when you don’t know the right people? Breaking the notion of not going to just work for someone else was one of the biggest things I had to get past. At the same time, worst case scenario it fails and it doesn’t work out. At the time I was broke and living with my grandparents as a 22 year old. I figured I’ll still be broke and living with my grandparents, but I’ll be okay.

“I thought I was going to design school. I thought I was going to go work at an agency. I was going to go design consumer products and that was it. I was going to live in New York and this is what I had been told by all my professors … Both of my parents have been unemployed for decades. They struggle with poverty and addiction and we could have been a recipient of the services we provide. Now at Empowerment Plan I think that’s the reason I’m really doing the work but at the same time no one in my family started a business. That’s not what you did. You go and you work for people. You go get a living.”

What do you think society is getting wrong about homelessness?

Homelessness isn’t what you think it is and it doesn’t look like what you think it does. That’s where people get caught up. If you polled people that were walking by us on the street right now on what homelessness looks like, they would all say the exact same visual image of a person standing on a street corner asking for change and holding up a sign. What are their traits? They’re lazy or they don’t have a job or they’re mentally unstable or they’ve done something wrong or they’re addicted to drugs or they’re in prison. We [think] we have this clear idea of what homelessness is. It’s not a defining characteristic. You just do not have a place to live. That doesn’t tell you anything else about the person. You were just displaced. Growing up in that situation, people would look at me and my siblings as worthless by extension. That we were just doomed to repeat the same history over and over again. We hire from shelters but you have somebody with a Master’s degree in psychology. You have another person who has never had a job before or somebody who had spent their life in sex work and they want to create a better life for their family, they just don’t know how. And then you’ve got somebody who got laid off by a job and their house burned down. There’s no one thing that is homelessness. It’s not something to be solved by a cream. We want that single problem and for it to be so well defined and easy because then the solution would be easy. There is no easy solution. It’s complex, it’s hard, it’s challenging, but it’s worth it to address it at its core.

Photography by Derrick Busman

Listen to the full conversation on Apple Podcasts or SimpleCast.

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