She was pregnant in a homeless shelter. Then this job saved her life.
You've got to learn about The Empowerment Plan.
Jessica West never imagined she could be homeless.
But then she had an unexpected pregnancy. Then she lost her job.
And suddenly, her family was out of options.
West's story isn't all that unique, Veronika Scott, founder of The Empowerment Plan, points out. All it can take is a few setbacks for a person to find themselves in dire circumstances.
“We are not as far away from homelessness as we'd like to think we are. One or two things can happen, and anybody can tip.”
That's where The Empowerment Plan comes in. The nonprofit is helping women who, like West, need a hand-up.
The Empowerment Plan, which is based in Detroit, initially got off the ground when Scott wanted to create coats that could double as sleeping bags for people in her city who were homeless.
Her idea quickly snowballed into something much bigger than that.
"A coat is just a Band-Aid for a systemic issue," she explained in a video produced by Gap. "And what really would have the impact is hiring the population that would need [the coats] in the first place."
Today, The Empowerment Plan employs more than 30 formerly homeless women, including West, who make coats for others in need.
In Detroit, a city grappling with staggering rates of poverty, The Empowerment Plan is helping to change, and save, lives.
To West, working alongside others who've been in her shoes has made a world of difference.
“It was empowering, very empowering, to be around a group of women that knew my struggle," she says. "And to just connect with people on that type of level.”
The Empowerment Plan focuses on helping women find economic stability on their own terms.
"I think women have a really difficult time understanding how valuable they are," Scott explains, noting she, too, has had to overcome challenges being from a family that struggled with addiction."The idea of self-worth is very important to me."
Scott hires women exclusively from local shelters and trains them in areas like sewing, manufacturing, and tech — "whatever [skills] they need to become more independent, and to be proud of their accomplishments, and to be proud of themselves.”
The key, though, is allowing each employee to make the best decisions for herself, Scott says — not by Scott pretending to know what's best for her workers.
“This is not about us saying, ‘Oh, we know better than you,’ or, ‘We’re in a better situation than you, so we know what you need,’" she says. "No, you need to tell us or start figuring out what it is that you want to get to.”
With a job and support system, West can finally look ahead again. And she feels like now she has the world at her fingertips.
Her goal is to go back to school and possibly pursue work that can help The Empowerment Plan — which is aiming to expand into retail soon, thus creating more jobs — continue to grow.
“I know I want to help people and change the world,” she says.
“For me, being one of those people, basically out on the street, it’s like I’m giving back to another me.”