TODAY   |  December 20, 2013

‘Empowerment Plan’ helps homeless get a new start

A Detroit organization is not just helping the homeless get warm coast for the holiday, but is also employing them, enabling them to earn incomes and restart their lives. NBC News’ Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back at 8:40 with our special series getting to the heart of christmas where we team up with walmart. kristen dahlgren is here with our latest installment. good morning.

>> good morning. it's easy for us to get caught up in our own hectic holidays and overlook those that don't have anything, not even a home. but an organization called the empowerment plan is not just making sure the homeless has a warm coat but showing how sometimes all someone needs is a chance.

>> it was very cold and bitter and people are cruel.

>> it was rough. it was really rough. i mean, i had no water to drink for a couple of days and really nothing to eat.

>> what do you do? where do you go from here? how do you pick yourself up? i felt like there is no way out.

>> i was staying from house to house. and then i ended up going to the shelter because that was my last resort.

>> did you ever imagine you would end up in a shelter?

>> no, ma'am. it never crossed my mind at all. i went to private school . i had a partial scholarship. i was a scholar athlete. i didn't think i would ever be homeless. i never thought that.

>> so you don't know why someone is homeless. you don't know why they ended up in the shelter. everyone's story is different. and a lot of the time, we dehumanize them.

>> reporter: 24-year-old veronica scott is the ceo and founder of the empowerment plan. an organization that makes winter coats that turn into sleeping bags to give to the homeless. what began as veronica's class project turned into a mission.

>> i woman ended up seeing the coats and she ends up screaming at me and saying we don't need coats, we need jobs. and she was right.

>> reporter: so veronica turned the coats into a company. hiring mothers from shelters.

>> they can do anything. their ambition is limitless because they're doing it not just for themselves but their family.

>> this is the first time i've ever felt that i belong. and it 's wonderful . i just turned 50 last month.

>> i talk to every single person before we hire them and say this is your clean slate . this is your opportunity to make whatever it is you want to make of yourself and with yourself and with your family.

>> reporter: 13 seamstresses are employed and work at more than sewing.

>> right now i'm in college.

>> reporter: they're stitching their lives back together. ten of them now have their own homes.

>> she knows that i'm homeless. she didn't mind sitting in the shelters wanting to get to know us. that's like no way. like we're supposed to be lost. thrown away. tossed out. no. not us.

>> a lot of people feel sorry for us and i don't think that's the way they should feel. i think this is an accomplishment that we made. so maybe they should look up to us. look at us for who we are and not what we have been through.

>> reporter: so for who they are and who they are becoming, walmart has a surprise for these women and their families.

>> you are such an impressive group of women, we wanted to do something extra special for you. so the "today" show teamed up with walmart -- they're going to make me cry.

>> we just wanted to make your christmas with you and your families a little extra special this year. so why don't you come on inside and see what we've got for you.

>> reporter: even the basics were more than they could have imagined.

>> i got everything.

>> you are so special.

>> i know you guys have all been through tough times and fought back and we're so proud of what you're doing, getting your own places. and so walmart has given each of you all of these things for your new homes.

>> reporter: they have all been given a second chance. now they'll have everything else they need to start over.

>> thank you so much. thank you so much. thank you so much.

>> each of the women also got 1,000 dollars gift certificate to walmart. the empowerment plan got a gift as well. thousands of dollars in office supplies , cameras, ipad, new chairs for the seamstresses and a $2,500 gift card they can use as they help grow. you saw me cry in there. these women really touched me. one of them said she had been sleeping in the coat that they were sewing and giving away to other homeless people . she had an apartment but still didn't have enough to furnish it. she said this changed my life.

>> so many great points in that story along the way. veronica, 24 starting it. the coat, what an ingenious idea.

>> and i love her for saying i see something in you. giving them something that helps them rebuild their lives.

>> amazing.

>> you get to think about what they said, we're not to be tossed away.

>> right.

>> we're not disposable.

>> we're fighting back and you see their children and you know that this is generational. this helps that mother who helps her children and changes a generation.

>> you change women you change a generation.

>> absolutely.

>> great story.

>> well done. best thing you say you've ever done.

>> my favorite story. it was so nice to be able to help them out like that.

>> love it.

>> kristen, thank you.