Veronika Scott’s idea for a coat for the homeless that transforms into a sleeping bag started as a college class assignment; the Empowerment Plan now has 34 employees and has produced over 15,000 coats. The organization employs homeless and formerly homeless women, and they will expand their jobs program when they move into their new space in near future. Scott, who came to Ponyride in 2011, expects to have about 60 employees by the beginning of next year.
On the shag carpeting and exposed wires that greeted Ponyride’s first tenants:
It was just a mess. There were coffee mugs and picture frames with family photos in them -- it was just like this kind of surreal scene, like everybody just left work and never came back. The design of it was very ‘80s fabulous -- gold leaf in the bathroom, pink shag carpeting, fleshtone colored wallpaper.
And there were wires everywhere, there was stuff getting pulled down from the ceiling. So everyone was doing a lot of physical labor to rip up the floors, and tear down drop ceilings and replace windows, and you got very close very quickly, because it was such a small group and you’re spending every second of every day together.
On the real value of low rent:
We couldn’t always afford rent. There’s been two times where we’ve almost hit zero in the bank account and I’m just clearing everybody’s payroll, waiting for a donation to come through. But if I was in any other place, you’re not just worrying about can I make payroll, you’re worrying about eviction.
In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing, had no money, and if we didn’t have that period of time, who knows where we’d be now, or how big we’d be, because maybe we couldn’t even have made it through that first year. We could always afford it as we were figuring this stuff out, and once we had more stability, we were offering to pay more.
Why they began tackling one of Detroit’s biggest challenges, unemployment:
These job opportunities have already been a stepping stone for a lot of people who have worked with us into other jobs. We’re building that program out more because so many people have been successful externally, and we’re really proud and we want to replicate that.
On moving up and out of Ponyride:
To grow out of the space is already beginning to feel, for me, like one of the biggest business moves ever, because this has been very comfortable and safe. We know what to expect, we know what to do, we know what was needed from us here but to move into a different space, an even bigger space, is a little terrifying.
It’s exciting, it’s just going to be strange to be down the street or somewhere else and look on this building that I spent every day of my life in for five, six years.