By Jordyn Willis
Detroit entrepreneur Veronika Scott gave UF students inspiration to step outside their comfort zones through the use of her own success story at a presentation in Old Main on a Friday afternoon.
Findlay students listened to Scott speak about her life and her nonprofit organization, The Empowerment Plan, on March 13 in an effort to show students that people of all backgrounds can be successful.
“Give them the power to take control of the life that they lead,” said Scott.
According to Scott, there are 20,000 counted homeless in city of Detroit, but the actual number is 42,000.
Scott designed a three-layer winter coat that could also function as a heat-trapping, waterproof sleeping bag, an idea that she gathered during a college course assignment to create something needed and practical.
In starting the project, Scott explained that she spent three days a week, every week for five months in a Detroit homeless shelter, working with the homeless to create and design a prototype of the coat.
“We picked the worst shelter in Detroit, it was a one-story, windowless building surrounded by barbed wire that could only house 150 people at a time, people were walking around waiting for the shift to change,” said Scott.
It took Scott 80 hours to hand sew the first coat and it weighed about 21.5 pounds.
Scott said that during her time doing research at the shelter, she gained a street name as the “crazy coat girl” or “coat lady.”
“I even had my own spokesperson, Peewee,” said Scott. “He was five foot two and had been on the street for 15 consecutive years and everyone feared him.”
Scott did mention that she got a good grade on her class project.
After creating her first prototype, she took the coat and a well-written business plan to the dean of her college, who was the design director of Patagonia prior to working at the college.
The dean forwarded her to Carhartt, where Scott met with the CEO who agreed to supply her with fabric, needles, thread, zippers and sewing machines.
Scott’s first two employees had felony records, and found a sewing teacher on Facebook.
“She believes in the women she hires. That is clear in the way she talked about them. I was so moved when she described how the son of one of her employees, now deceased, thanked her for giving him back his mom,” said Sarah Fedirka, English professor at UF.
The Empowerment Plan has a team of about 25 members.
“A misquote of a ‘$200 jacket for the homeless’ brought major attention to the coat,” said Scott.
The business is funded by sponsorships and donors, one of which Scott explained was Madonna, who visited the building and funded the hiring of three jobs.
“Her presentation was thought provoking, inspiring, and funny. Here is a young woman who embodies the UF mission of ‘equipping students for meaningful lives and productive careers,’” said Fedirka.
One of the things that Fedirka explained stuck with her was Scott’s words about women empowerment.
“Women have a hard time understanding their self-worth,” said Scott.
Fedirka explained that this happens when women have strong advocates or mentors teaching them skills, but also teaching them to stand up for themselves and for others.
“We can both act and make our own futures or we can spend our lives reacting to the actions of others. As Dr. Sears said, we have a tendency to stay in our comfort zone,” said Fedirka. “Veronika has clearly stepped outside of hers. As a result, she’s changing lives.”
Scott expressed her message through the use of her own personal stories throughout the presentation.
“Most memorable for me were the stories she told,” said Fedirka. “Her first meetings with those in Hell (the name of the homeless shelter), her experience with the CEO of Carhartt, and when she met Warren Buffet. We are our stories. Veronika demonstrates how much good can be done when we take time to listen to each other’s stories.”
According to the University of Findlay newsroom, Scott won the JFK New Frontier Award from the John F. Kennedy Foundation in 2012 and in 2011, and also won the Industrial Design Society of America’s IDEA Gold Award.
Scott, who is now 25, has also been named one of CNN’s Ten Visionary Women in 2014.
“I thought she was a great speaker and a great inspiration for being so young,” said Brittany Beltz, senior animal science major. “You can tell she really has a passion for what she does in her company and cares about her workers and those who live in the shelter.”