Veronika Scott was a student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, majoring in industrial design. In the fall of 2010, she was given a project: design something to meet a social need. To prepare she worked at a local homeless shelter, and after five months she designed a heat-trapping coat that transforms at night into a self-heated, waterproof sleeping bag. At the end of the semester, she continued working with the homeless to improve the coat's quality and design. When one homeless woman yelled, "We don't need coats, we need jobs!" she began hiring and training homeless mothers to make the coats.
Veronika Scott, 24, CEO of The Empowerment Plan
Her class project expanded into a non-profit organization called The Empowerment Plan. By making coats, the Plan brings women out of poverty, helping them build a better life and regain their independence. In 2012 she became the youngest person ever to receive the JFK New Frontier Award, and she earned it the old-fashioned way, by dedication and hard work.
"I didn't know how to sew, and my mother taught me as we sat upstairs in my grandmother's house using her home sewing machine," she remembered. "I seam-ripped five wool coats to make a Frankenstein-like monstrosity of a jacket. It turned out awful, smelled funny and weighed 20 pounds, but I was proud of it." Her homeless friends told her it looked like a body bag, so she made three more prototypes to get a good grade in class. By the end of the project, she was known on the streets as The Coat Lady and many homeless asked for coats. She wondered, "why on earth would they want something that was a school project? I'm just a student. It was just for a grade." But it became much more than that.
One of her first employees was a homeless Mom named Elisha. After sewing coats for Scott for three months, Elisha used her modest salary to leave the shelter and get an apartment and furniture. Her three kids enrolled in a charter school. Scott now employs 15 mothers who are or were homeless. If you have five spare minutes to hear Veronika tell her story, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=