While the Empowerment Plan has a global reach, with a massive goal of breaking the homelessness cycle through employment — its roots are centered in Metro Detroit. Blake’s Hard Cider of Armada has recently partnered up with the local nonprofit, as part of their Kinder Cider Series launched in 2017.
Saint. Cheri, a bourbon barrel-aged semi-sweet hard cider made with Michigan-grown Montmorency cherries, is the third installment in the series launched Dec. 1, 2019.
Empowerment Plan Development & Outreach Manager Lauren Knill spoke about the nonprofit's 2012 beginnings.
“The concept actually started when [CEO and Founder Veronika Scott] was a design student at the College for Creative Studies. She was given a project to create a product that fulfilled a need in the community. She chose the need of homelessness, and spent hundreds of hours in the local shelters designing a product that would fill the need with the end-user.”
She designed a coat, which can transition into a sleeping bag. It took 89 hours to sew and weighed about 23 pounds. Scott noticed that those she worked with closely at the shelter created a waiting list for the coat. Another person from the shelter approached her, but rather than requesting the coat, she asked for a job.
“That’s when she started to realize she could solve multiple problems with one product,” Knill said. “Right after she graduated, she started the nonprofit, hiring three women from a local shelter, and working out of an old utility closet to make the coats.”
Today, the Empowerment Plan occupies a 21,000-square-foot facility on the east side of Detroit, having produced 35,000 coats distributed worldwide, and employed 85 production employees. That’s 85 families — none of which have returned to shelters. Each employee is a single parent/head of household, who were living in homeless shelters. The organization hires employees at 40 hours a week to create these coats. Within 4-6 weeks, the goal is to get employees permanently out of shelters, and into housing. After that, the 24-30 month goal is to assist employees with life skills, employability, health and wellness skills, etc.
Representatives of Blake’s Hard Cider reached out to the Empowerment Plan, as the Kinder Cider Series third limited-edition cider partnership. Knill said the organization has constantly been impressed by Blake’s philanthropy and attitude of giving.
“We’ve just been amazed by how passionate about our mission they are, how passionate they are about helping to sponsor coats for these communities, and how much they’re really supportive and kind.”
The Armada company is focused on keeping everything from their backyard since 1946 and frequently gives back to local and regional charities.
Blake’s Hard Cider has also gone above and beyond in the partnership, according to Knill, by bringing cider and doughnuts for the entire staff of seamstresses.
“Those are little things they don’t necessarily have to do, but they’ve kind of become an extension of our family through the partnership,” she said.
It’s family that Blake’s Hard Cider is really founded upon, from a long line of Blake’s. Andrew Blake, president, grew up working on the family farm and expanded their reach into hard cider.
“We as a company wanted to develop several ciders that uphold the value of giving back, and so we chose those charities specifically for that. Obviously, the ciders themselves are delicious, but it’s more about what the cider stands for, and providing additional exposure to these nonprofits,” said Blake’s Marketing Director Elena Dinverno.
“Ultimately, I want people to become more exposed to the great work that the Empowerment Plan is doing throughout the nation. I think that’s really the most important message.”
“We’ve been to their facility many times. There’s a lot of cross-support happening, constant communication back and forth –brainstorming ways to continue to give them as much exposure and love as possible,” Dinverno said of the fruitful partnership.
All profits of the St. Cheri merchandise (in-store and online) benefit the Empowerment Plan. Blake’s has also pledged a monetary donation to the cause.
It’s a worthy, lofty cause, according to Knill.
“In every major city, there are more people in need of a bed and shelter than there are beds and shelters. We want to get these coats to people in need across the country, but we also want to raise awareness about our whole mission -- and what we do. Every coat sponsored supports a job, keeps a woman employed, and helps support her family. Through one coat, you can be supporting five people,” she said.
In the following years, the Empowerment Plan hopes to reach their maximum capacity in Detroit, with 60-70 full-time employees, and to produce 11-12,000 coats/year.