Skip to content

S2: Veronika Scott of The Empowerment Plan Detroit #42

veronika-scott-180 (1)   Veronika Scott

Veronika Scott of The Empowerment Plan shares her missional journey of discovering her passion for creating employment for the homeless. She courageously dives into human dignity issues and leads the way for many social entrepreneurs. Get inspired!

Read Full Transcript

Full transcript of show here:

Romy:                 Hey there. This is Romy, and I’ll be your host for this episode of the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. Welcome, today you will hear from the amazing Veronika Scott, who is the founder, CEO, and overall visionary of the Empowerment plan of Detroit. The Empowerment plan is an organization that employs single parents primarily, out of the homeless shelters, to sew and produce the coats that turn into sleeping bags for the homeless. She both has a product that helps the homeless, and hires the homeless. I would truly say, she does far more than just hire. She really pours into their lives. They become family there at the Empowerment plan. Now, before we get too far, let’s kick off this episode with a cool, fun fact about coats from Bonfire’s team member, Jentzen Mel.

Jentzen:              Hey, this is Jentzen, and I have some fun fuel for your entertainment. As I was thinking about this episode, I began to research the history of coats, and found some interesting information on coat manufacturer, Eddy Bauer. Eddy Bauer came up with the idea for his lightweight down insulated jacket after almost freezing to death, steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula. I found this information on, written by Aaron McCarthy. Did you know, at age 21, Eddy Bauer was stringing tennis rackets as an entrepreneur in East Seattle, out of a small shop? His business was growing, and eventually, he gained his own storefront. Here’s a short excerpt I found in the article.

“The shop might have stayed a small, but successful business if not for a fishing trip Bauer took with his friend Red Carlson, a trapper from Alaska, in January 1935. The pair headed to a canyon in the Olympic Peninsula where they fished for steelhead. That cold, snowy January day, their haul was 100 pounds, and they stripped off their heavy, wool Makina jackets, climbing off the canyon in just their wool shirts and long underwear. The car was a mile away, and the 200-30 foot climb out of the river canyon was steep. As they hiked, Bauer, wet from his bag of fish and sweating profusely, began to fall behind his friend. When he reached to the top of the canyon, he stopped and leaned against a tree to rest. “He was literally falling asleep on his feet, nodding off,” Berg says.

All that moisture froze in the cold in the snow, and he was getting Hypothermic. He was in a bad way. He realized what he needed was really a breathable, warm jacket, that he wouldn’t have to take off when he was working so strenuously in the cold.

End of article. We all know Eddy Bauer went on to be one of the most successful outdoor clothing brands, and well-known for his coats. This is Jentzen, and this was your fun fuel for today. Talk to you next time.

Romy:                 Cool story. You never know what inspires people. Thinking about inspiration, let’s turn our attention back to Veronika. I met her some years ago when she was considering some expansion in her organization and some investment. She’s truly a visionary. I want to set this up a little bit. You can go to her website and get the back-story. There’re lots of videos there that you can look up and go through, and you might want to because this interview is really picking up and discussing important issues she’s facing today. Both in the form of opportunity and critical human issues that she’s thinking through very strategically, so here we go, my interview with Veronika Scott.

Veronika:           Hi Romy, I’m really excited to be here. It’s always great talking to you about this, and you can find out more about the whole history of Empowerment plan on our site, but it really all started off as a class project in college, while I was studying product design at the college for creative studies, here in Detroit. What started off as designing a product to fill needs in the city of Detroit, really turned into this whole system, and organization built around the coats themselves, and how the coats aren’t actually the priority. They’re just a way for us to employ the people we want to employ. The coat was what I designed in college. It took me 80 hours to build the first prototype.

Weeks of my life learning how to sew, while simultaneously making this coat, because what I noticed when I started the class, and all of us were kind of scrambling around as students, we had no idea how to address a need in the city of Detroit, that was actually something that we could tackle in a semester. What came up constantly was that, here, I see this person on the streets every day, and I want to do something, but I can’t. I spent a lot of time in shelters, and I wouldn’t say I was volunteering, I just spent time there. The one thing, the one moment that inspired the coat and the entire Empowerment plan, subsequently, was a playground that was turned into a home for somebody. Two people were living inside of a play structure that was covered in tarps and clothes, and this playground, where these two people were living, were 20 feet away from the shelter. That was just the most shocking thing in the world.

Why would you build something for yourself, when somebody is literally trying to give it to you for free? I remember just snapping a couple of pictures on my phone, and walking around with some of the people that were in that shelter, and coming back a week later, only to find that the playground had been burnt to the ground in a turf war, and had been completely leveled. The two people that were living inside of it survived that incident, only to pass away a couple of years later, just from being out in the elements for so long. Essentially, that moment inspired Empowerment Plan and the coats, but everything else as well. It’s like, why would you do that, why would you even risk your life to make something for yourself? Initially, as a product designer, my way of dealing with it, and figuring out how to address, because it’s not the physical need, but it’s the emotional need.

It’s this desire of wanting to take care of yourself. That this person had the pride and the drive to be independent, because when the rest of the world is trying to force them to take handouts and rely on the whims of others for everything that they need in their day to day life, these two individuals tried to take control in the best way possible, and show that they could provide for themselves, even in this small way. The coat was trying to address that emotional need of wanting to be independent, and not feeling like you’re worthless because most of the handouts are used by other people, before that person gets it. It makes you feel less than everybody else, to be wearing somebody else’s trash. I know that just from growing up. My parents, who are unemployed to this day, still struggle with addiction, and it’s something that we still struggle with.

Most people assumed that my siblings and I, we didn’t have any value, because they didn’t think my parents had any value. Even though my parents are very intelligent, driven people, that are in that circumstance for many different reasons, they just kind of looked at them, and then subsequently looked over us. I know what it’s like to have to deal with other people’s cast away objects, and have people look down at you and think that you’re worthless, and all you’re trying to do is prove that you’re not. That’s a really long, hard struggle, so when I started with Empowerment plan and spent time in that shelter, I was the only one of my friends and classmates that actually spent time there, that didn’t end up running away because it is a rough shelter that got uncomfortable. This is something that I know, if it weren’t for family, we would have been in shelters.

We would have had that same experience, so if it can happen to my parents, it can happen to anybody. Homelessness, one, is not a defining characteristic. It doesn’t define who someone is; it just tells you that they just don’t have a place right now. They don’t have a physical place to live, but people all the time, think it defines who that individually is as a person. When starting Empowerment plan, and spending time in that shelter, I knew, because my parents had gotten very close, but them not having a home, or them suffering from addiction, does not define who they are. If it could happen to my parents, it could happen to anybody, and that we’re all a lot closer to homelessness than we’d like to think we are.

That was the reason I fell in love working in the shelters and spending the time and designing the coat that was initially meant not to feel like someone else’s trash, and offer a little bit of warmth, with also giving a little bit of dignity. That’s why it grew into something that was just beyond making a coat but hiring a population that would need it in the first place. In a way, it was me trying to deal with and address, what I had gone through growing up, and offer that same opportunity to my own family.

Romy:                 That’s such a moving story. I think we can all find ourselves somewhere in that history, relating to that. For the folks listening that aren’t familiar with your coat, will you tell them the functionality of this coat?

Veronika:           The coat now is beautiful. When I first started, they were absolutely terrible, and I really suck at sewing, even to this day, but it is meant just to be, simply a jacket. If you look at it on the streets, you can’t even tell it’s anything other than just like, a regular winter coat that people walk around with. What makes it different, really two things. There is what looks like a giant, giant pocket that unfolds from the back, that then you can velcro clothes. That you can actually slide your feet into, all the way up to your knees, and velcro the front panels of the jacket to it, and it becomes a sleeping bag. Then there are two clips on the sleeves themselves of the jacket, so that when you’re done with the jacket in the winter, and you’re done with the sleeping bag part, you can always roll it up and use it as an over the shoulder bag.

That’s really important, most people deal with theft on the streets, and things like that, that they can wear it physically at all times, even in the summer, and not worry about it getting stolen. The coat itself is actually made with a lot of interesting things too. It’s been really exciting to see the materials develop over time. We use recycled discontinued colors from Carhart on the outside shell; we use recycled automotive scrap from General Motors, from their door paneling. I think it’s Buick, specifically. We use recycled Buick door panels, that they use as insulation in their cars, that are recycled and reprocessed, and given to us to use as insulation in the coats. Then we use quilted lining, just for extra comfort and warmth on the outside of those layers. I think it’s just meant to be a very, very, very durable jacket because it’s used in such extreme situations.

We’ve made about 10,000 coats over the last 3 1/2 years. People always ask, do you just distribute in Detroit? We’re like, we never just distribute in Detroit. Even the first 20 that I made, half went to Detroit, and half went to Ohio and a couple of other places, but we have actually been able to have those 10,000 coats reach out in 30 states across the US, as well as 6 Canadian provinces, and now New Zealand, Australia, and France, as far as our outreach goes. That’s through, just our network of outreach groups. We don’t do distribution ourselves. We just partner with the organizations that do it and have the trust and respect on the streets.

That way, we’ve been able to have huge impact and scale at such a small organization, because we want to partner, and because we use it that way, and because we trust that the outreach groups, after we work with them, and Vet them, that they are going to give them to the people thaT really need it. They’re going to know better than us, and so that’s why we’ve been able to get our coats across the globe.

Romy:                 I’m glad we’ve transitioned a little bit deeper into the coat, and I want to stay on the coat itself for just a minute before we go back, and talk more about some of the initiatives with the social mission, but the coat itself has such a high, high quality, because of your demand for quality. You got the coat that’s going to become part of the enterprise here, and because of the high quality of the coat and the awesome functionality of the coat, people want to buy it. It started out being a donation, and all of the sudden you’re starting to get all these demands over the last couple of years from what, like outdoor enthusiasts and everything, and Camel. Can you tell us about this, because this is sort of what started the conversation about potentially selling these, right?

Veronika:           Yeah, so what’s funny is when I first started, I got a lot of interesting responses to the coats and hiring a couple people from the shelter. It started off with getting hate mail actually because people were like, are you just helping people stay homeless, or those people are not going to work. That’s literally quoted from e-mails. Like, those people, those homeless people are never going to come to work everyday. They’re never going to make a sandwich, let alone a coat. We had a lot to prove when I started because nobody was doing what we’re doing now. Nobody was going to shelters and hiring people. Nobody said that that population and the people that were there had any worth or value, so we were really trying to do a couple of things when I first started was, prove out, hey, we got this coat idea, can we even make it?

Can we even produce this [inaudible 00:13:49], because I didn’t know how to sew, and I had to find somebody on Facebook that would help teach us, so it wasn’t probably the right business choice, but it was never a thought in my mind to make it somewhere else. Hiring the first couple people from the shelter, we had kind of a chip on our shoulder, that we wanted to prove that no, you can hire someone from the shelter. That there are valuable, driven, powerful individuals there, and that they’re really the reason the coat has worked out, and gotten to this point. We were just trying to prove those two things, can we hire people from the shelter, and can we make this coat.

As we were proving those things, and as we prove them now, we were surprised by the response after that initial first phase, like I said, of not the best and the most happy responses from everybody, when people just saw the coat and didn’t understand the system. Then, people started requesting the coat just for the function of it. They wanted to buy one. We would get thousands of orders for the coats for somebody that wanted to purchase one. We had been telling them, because we were making so few, and that the demand in the US and globally, for individuals that are sleeping on the streets, or are in a disaster relief situation, the demand is so high, that every coat that we made needed to go to someone in dyer need of it. That needed this because the situation was really extreme. I cannot tell you how many people we made very angry by saying, no, you can’t buy it yet.

We’re not there, and right now all the coats that we make, need to go out on the streets. We would get e-mails from hunters, campers, fishermen, ice fishermen, a lot of doomsday preppers, but there are people that just wanted to buy the coat, because they liked the coat, and they had no idea about the social side, whatsoever. They’re like, I want to buy this coat that turns into a sleeping bag, that’s light, and meant to be very, very, very durable, and also, withstand very cold temperatures. They just thought it looked cool, and so, those orders have never stopped coming in. I thought it would just be with waves of press that we had gotten, and then it would die down once people understood more of what we were doing, and frankly, the more effective we’ve been in hiring and employment, and the more that we’ve done in the employment space, the more the demand for the product itself, has increased.

Not only do those hunting, camping, fishing people want to buy a coat for the functionality, there are those now that want to support the Empowerment Plan, and want to see us grow, and they want to do that through also wearing one of those coats. I’m secretly really excited and thrilled about the idea that there one day could be two people walking down the street and cross paths, and one person could be wearing the coat because they need it, and they have to wear it, because they have nothing else, and one person could have worn the coat because they bought it, and they liked the product, and they thought it was cool, and that these two individuals may walk past each other on the street, and you won’t be able to tell who needed it and who wanted it. I think that is one of the most exciting things for me, just thinking about from a dignity standpoint, and a respect standpoint, and pride.

I think that’s something that I’m really excited about really trying to see if we can achieve.

Romy:                 Veronika, what was your focus on making a quality product?

Veronika:           We focus a lot on the quality because this can’t just be a good product for people on the streets that’s free. It can’t just be looked at as, “Oh, that’s a good product for, oh homeless people made it, oh this is good enough.” That’s not how I feel like a product designer. The product needs to stand on it’s own. The product needs to be good, no matter what. That person that didn’t pay anything for it, and couldn’t afford it, needs to have just as good of quality as somebody that can afford something like that. Quality has been a big thing. We’ve actually, over the last nine months, have had a true focus on lean manufacturing. We’ve had a lean specialist come in that used to work with Toyota and Ford, and the Government, doing tanks, he came in to help us set up our system, because we’re not a typical production facility.

Our whole focus is learning, and just having this work place that makes you feel warm and comfortable, and supported, because everything else in the world may be chaos around you, but I want to feel like when you come into work, that at least in this space, it’s not. It’s not chaotic; we’re there to help. For me, that was like, how do we do that, while fostering the creativity of our work force? How do we hear ideas from the team on the floor that’s making the coats everyday, and hearing that, and listening to them, and improving the coat that way. It’s about bringing that out through manufacturing. It sounds weird, but being able to share ideas, and innovate together as a team, is really important. That innovation isn’t just me in a corner, trying to design new coats because I am not that good. I am not that good at all of this.

I think the only reason the coat is where it is now, is because of that, is because of the whole team innovating together, and because the people are everyday making it, are the ones improving it. With lean, we all have even lean manufacturing, little certifications, we all have little diplomas as a team. We went through a lot of training. It’s been a nine-month process, where we start a draw for the same number of people, which was 20 on the floor, making 17 coats a day, in January. In July, we were up to making 35 coats a day, with the same number of people. We did a whole redesign of the coat and the pattern to go with it. To optimize that, just listened to the ideas of the people on the floor, and say okay, how can we make this better? Now, we’re projected to be doing 60 coats a day, two teams of 10. While continuing to promote up internally, and give people more job opportunities in that, to take on leadership roles.

That’s been one of the most exciting things that we have been working on all year, because as we even begin to explore what it would take to sell our coats, and launch retail versions of what we do, we need to be a rock solid production facility, that anybody can come in and learn how to sew, feel supported, as the non-profit is meant to support them and be there, but also produce a product that can sit on the shelves with any other major brands or brands period. They can look at that and think, that’s great, that’s cool, and not even know, until they open the coat up and read what the story was.

Romy:                 Will you talk about why you feel it is so important to get quality. It is a dignity issue, don’t you think? You alluded to it just a little bit earlier. To me it is, but will you talk about that from your perspective, why it’s even more important when you have a social business?

Veronika:           The biggest thing for me, and I can sum it all up in one word, is like, pity. Pity is, what I despise the most in my business, and what I do. I call it a pity purchase. People do it because they feel bad. They buy it once, because they’re like, you know what, I’m going to help somebody, and that person needs my help, and they’re so sad, and they need me to make this, and they’ll never buy it again, because the quality is not there, the attention, or the cost, or whatever it is, any product cannot sustain itself with a one time purchase. You need repeat customers. Your product needs to be good. Not only from a standpoint of just products in general, and production, it needs to be good from that standpoint, but from the standpoint of the people that are making it, do they want to make something and put something out there that’s only going to be bought once, because they felt bad for them?

Our attitude when it comes to launching retail is a very concise one. We want to take the pity out of charity. We want to take t his pity out of purchase. We don’t believe in that, and I also strongly believe and know that you do not get to pity anyone on my team, for any reason. I’m not going to sit there and say, “Oh, thank you for purchasing. Let me show you a video of one of my team crying, and talking about the hard story that they had before they got here.” Yes, they were homeless. Yes, they’ve gone through that, but that does not define them. You cannot assume anything. They could have gotten there for any reason. It’s not about the pity. It’s not about parading people around and telling their sad stories, and thinking that crying is going to sell something.

My team does not cry. They sit there, and they’re like, yeah I lived without water and food for like three days, like this insane stuff that they have gone through, but they do it with strength and power, and they know that I’m not here for you to look down on me.

Romy:                 Different mentality isn’t it, from enabling versus empowering. Your vision has really been solidified towards employment, and you’ve even gone so far as to do so much of your own personal research on different types of situations when you’re hiring them out of homelessness, and different kinds of programs that you’re setting up. You put the same demands on what you want to accomplish with a social impact. Do you want to talk about that?

Veronika:           Yeah. We have a very tricky situation as a non-profit that is also a production facility. There’s not that many of us out there for a reason, but it is very difficult to straddle that line of, one, enabling versus empowering, when are you helping somebody, and when are you just kind of holding them out and just giving them a handout that’s not going to make a difference, or where do you draw the line with individuals? How do you actually help people while also running a good business? That’s something we constantly, constantly balance and struggle with. We’ve finally set up those systems, and put those in place, and kind of, drawn the lines, and know where those are, but everyday at Empowerment plan, we really just do production up until 3 o’clock. Everybody’s on the clock until 5. Everybody is getting paid until 5, but production pretty much winds down at 3. We do this, because a couple of reasons. Programs are important.

Soft skills are important to someone’s success in employment. A lot of the times, for quite a few of the individuals we hire, they’ve never had employment experience before, this is their first time having a job. For others, this is the 20th time, and they had a gap, and they needed to get stable again. There’s no one story that’s alike, but for some people, they struggled with the idea of even having a job, and what that looks like, because their whole family, generationally, was just raised in the shelter system, and in poverty. They were never raised around somebody that had a job. They didn’t know what that looked like. They want to provide for their family and take care of their kids. They don’t have the tools to deal with it, to deal with the stress, the strain, and the understanding of what it means to come to work everyday. A lot of the struggle when I first started, was understanding, oh my God, you’ve never had a job.

What I thought was common sense, is like, oh you got to show up on time. We have to have that conversation. What is professional? What I realized, also early on, is that we can also deviate from our mission a lot, trying to provide all of these soft skills. I could do all of these classes, but this is again, we are a production facility. We are there to give jobs; we are there to create employment opportunities. We are not there to become a school, so it’s that constant balance. We found that those last 2 hours of everyday, until 5 o’clock while everybody is still getting paid, that is when we bring other partners, that do those things very well, every city has a GED program, that we can plug in. Every city has professionalism development. Every city has leadership training. Every city has financial literacy.

Every city has these programs already there, and what I don’t want to do is reinvent the wheel, and do something that somebody else is already doing very well. We need to stick to what our mission is, and stay focused on the fact that what we’re trying to do, and what we are doing, is creating employment opportunities that help lift individuals out of poverty, and we’ve got to stick to the employment side. Those 2 hours are when our GED program comes in, that we have nine people in right now. It’s going to take them a year to get through it, but then they’ll have their GED. That’s critical to getting any other job, so the programming for us is, stick to what we’re good at, which is the employment side, and help them, be a connector to getting a car, or a house, or figuring out next steps, so be a connector piece for those things, but not have them dependent on us in those ways, and also work with all the programs that are in the area.

That way also, their incentive is to sit through those classes, because they’re getting paid. This is not from normal work hours. A lot of programs and traditional work force development is all about, “We’ll have you come in for this free course, or this free class, or this free something. It’s at 8 o’clock at night, or it’s from 9-5 for six weeks.” You’re forcing individuals that may have kids and families, to choose between whatever income they may be getting right now, and investing in themselves to get a better job. Nothing is ever really free. People’s time is not free, and everybody on my team has the same value for their time, like anybody else. Just because you’re in the shelter, does not mean your time isn’t valuable. We treat it as such. It’s like, “Oh, this is free,” you know, you can take this class.

Well, you have to pay for daycare, you have to figure out a way to get there, you have to pay for transportation, there’s a lot that goes into it, and you cannot expect parents to have to choose between income and investing in potentially having a better job, maybe down the road. That’s where we really come in and say, we need to change radically how traditional work force development is done because people need income. People need money, and yes they need these soft skills, but we’ll teach them those things. We’ll train them with the skills that they need to have to succeed. That’s what most companies do, but they need the money. They need to get paid, they need to have the stable income, and have the company that’s willing to work with them on that journey for a couple of years while they do get stable, and figure things out, and finally get to a place where they can compete in the job market.

Romy:                 Your truth of the moment, what would be your big vision, if you really let yourself not be limited by resources, if you let yourself dream about what the Empowerment plan could accomplish, what would that look like?

Veronika:           I’m excited about the future of what Empowerment plan is becoming, and what we’re going to do, because like I said earlier, we were trying to prove two things when I started. Can you hire the homeless population from shelters, because no-one was doing that, and can we make this coat? Can we make a quality product? We’ve proven those things now. We’ve proven them so well in fact, that individuals now are looking to hire people from shelters, other companies want to do that, and as they’re figuring that out, people want to hire individuals that we employ. Apparently, we’re never what anybody expects to see, but we’ve not only proven that we can do those things, but that also, people can achieve financial stability to a point.

That they needed this time for someone to be there and have their back during this journey, that no other company was going to take a risk on them, if they didn’t have a permanent residence, or a permanent address, they didn’t have daycare, and they had five kids. They didn’t have transportation, and all these things, and nobody was going to give them that shot at employment, but when they come on the team with us, and they join our team, all of the sudden, it takes a while, and it isn’t overnight, but that income starts. Okay, now I can move out of the shelter. Every single person we’ve ever employed has moved out of the shelter permanently. It’s them driving that growth, and we do a lot to find those individuals and help them. We’ve proven that not only can we hire them, but they’re going to be in a better place because of it. All that they needed was that opportunity and that investment.

Somebody to invest in them, somebody that believed in them, that they had more, and that somebody was going to be there through the ups and downs, and we just keep track of it, and we’re aware of it, and we know how that hits us, and how that affects us. We just plan accordingly. We’ve done that, and we’ve done a lot of other things. We’ve had way more success than we ever could have imagined with the coat itself, and had more reach than we ever could have possibly, possibly imagined for outreach. That’s just shocking to me sometimes, to think about how many people, and how many lives that we’ve impacted. That’s like, 10,000 individuals that are wearing something that we made for them. As we grow, how do we not just make 10,000 coats, but employ 10,000 people? We know that the impact, the real impact of what we’re doing comes from the employment.

Yeah, we make coats, but we could make anything, and still have great impact. It’s about the system around the product that is the most exciting part. It is not the coat itself, but the employment. The coat is a bi-product of that system. As we move forward, it’s about three real key initiatives. It’s about building out the system and the foundation, so that we can employ individuals, and that they’re with us for like, 1-3 years during that difficult journey, and can transition on and prove that they’re not just good employees for us. They’re good employees for anybody. Companies would be lucky to have the individuals that we’ve had on our team. Their experience is valuable, so that’s the biggest thing that we’re proving.

To allow us to do that, to allow us to have a 1-3 year employment model, and employ those individuals, and help them graduate on into other jobs, and have people constantly cycling through, we need something that will sustain those jobs, so that’s where the retail component comes in. That’s the only reason we’re interested in selling these coats. That helps sustain and create, and foster those jobs, those good employment opportunities that will actually help them become stable. One of the most surprising things has been that other cities have requested this model. One, it’s kind of enjoyable, because, “Hah, you can learn something from Detroit. We are doing something very well,” I couldn’t have done Empowerment plan in any other city in the world, except for Detroit.

I couldn’t have started this, and couldn’t have gotten it off the ground, and a 21-year-old creating a business with 30 people in a 20,000 square foot building, things like that. That wouldn’t have been possible in any other city. Now we know what we do, helps pull people out of this cycle that they become trapped in. That’s the cycle of poverty. Once you’re out of the job, and you’re in the shelter, it’s almost as if a label has been stamped on you, or that you have stamped one on yourself. To break out of that, to climb out of that hole is so hard, that most people cannot make that journey from being in the shelter, or being in a housing program, to being stable again.

People expect them to do it on their own, and we’re there to say, they can’t, and we’re here to help in that journey from being in that shelter, being in that housing program, and being that foundation that helps them get to that next level, so that they can compete again. This is not something that is just experienced in Detroit; this is something that’s experienced globally. 3.5 million people are homeless or on housing program, in the US. Those individuals, without help, may become trapped. People are just stuck in their permanent housing, or transitional housing, or in their emergency shelters, and they’re not moving out, and they’re not moving beyond it because they can’t. They need the income. That’s what we want to be able to do, not just scale up large in one location, become a massive company in Detroit.

Instead, have impact on creating scale in other cities, and creating impact, and setting up in different communities. Having a place in Detroit that will always be the hub and headquarters for what we do, but then growing into other cities and communities, probably with different products that are needed in those areas. We are not married to that; we are married to who we hire.

Romy:                 Awesome. Multiple locations, 10,000 jobs that have been created over time, lots of coats sold, lots of help. Veronika, thank you so much for spending this time, and giving us a little bit of an inside peak into your world. I can tell you that we want to come back, and keep following the journey, and keep checking back with you on the life of the Empowerment Plan. What’s the best way, if somebody wants to look you up on social media, will you let them know how to reach the Empowerment Plan?

Veronika:           The best way to reach Empowerment plan is a couple of ways, really it’s just our website, which is, or you can even reach out to me. My e-mail is You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, but the best way is just through our site at, so thank you so much, Romy.

Destanee:          Hey listeners, this is Destanee, and I will bringing you the mystery sound for you to guess. This sound is from our next Bonfire’s episode, with our guests from the mile high workshop in Colorado. Listen closely. Can you guess what it is? Stay tuned for our next episode, when we reveal the mystery sound. In the meantime, visit our Facebook page, where you could interact with other fans to figure out the sound. Thanks for listening.

Romy:                 Well, that almost ends our episode today. We have a little surprise for you. When we were looking for some music for our show, we discovered Assemble Sound. Now, I don’t want to spoil it by telling you too much about them, because we’re going to interview them on an upcoming show, but we found our music and decided to feature other curated Detroit artists at the end of our episodes, you know when we can. For your listening pleasure, I’d like to introduce you to Erin Allen Cain, and her song, Have Mercy. Talk to you soon.

End of Transcription.


Ending Song curated by Assemble Sound is titled Have Mercy by Eryn Allen Kane. Find her on Soundcloud!

For more information on The Empowerment Plan please go to

For more information on Bonfires of Social Enterprise please visit us at  On the home page of the website you can Guess the Mystery Sound or Submit to the Mailbag.

Catch us on Twitter @bonfirespodcast or find us on Facebook at BonfiresofSocialEnterprise

Support us on Patreon at

Learn more about Gingras Global on their website at or