Decent Humans is what we call the incredible community we witness on CrowdRise each and every day doing amazing things for good. And each month, we’re going to highlight a Decent Human in the nonprofit world that’s devoting their time and passion to giving back and making a difference. We hope that by sharing their stories of aid, altruism, and passion, others will be inspired to make an even greater impact on the world we live in.
This month, we have our first double Decent Humans interview. We spoke with both Lauren and Erika at The Empowerment Plan in Detroit to learn why sticky notes are so crucial, how a dinner out can be so impactful, and why they’re changing people's lives one warm coat at a time.For Erika, who grew up with a mom who was very involved in the nonprofit space, working at The Empowerment Plan was a natural fit. After studying to be an elementary teacher, she realized that the classroom environment wasn’t meant for her, but giving back and doing good was core to her life’s purpose.
After getting involved with a local nonprofit in college, Lauren knew this was the type of work she was meant to do. When a job opportunity opened up at The Empowerment Plan, she jumped at the chance being that this was a ‘bucket list dream organization’ for her.
On the mission of The Empowerment Plan...
The Empowerment Plan is a Detroit-based nonprofit organization focused on permanently elevating families from the generational cycle of homelessness. The organization hires single parents from local shelters and provides them with training and full-time employment as seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing, and regain their independence.
The hired individuals manufacture a coat designed to meet the needs of those in the homeless community. The durable EMPWR Coat can transform into a sleeping bag at night or an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use.
On their roles at The Empowerment Plan...
Erika: I've been at Empowerment Plan for five years now, and I started right after college. I started off as an assistant at first, then quickly moved into communications, project management, and now I’m chief development officer. I head up all of our fundraising, donor relationships, and grant writing.
Lauren: I'm development and outreach coordinator, so a lot of my job is working with other partners and community organizations. But the biggest part of my job and the best part of my job is working to distribute close to seven thousand coats to the homeless every year, all around the world.
On what gets them up and excited to come to work each day…
Erika: For me, it's definitely the people that we employ. We have some ladies on the team that are younger than me with multiple kids that get up and come here everyday with a smile on their face, which just pushes me and encourages me to constantly want to do more. Even though I know we do so much, I never feel like it's quite enough, so they always motivate me to want to do more and succeed in fundraising.
Lauren: Yeah, I have to agree. It's people. No matter what organization I've been with, it's always been the people, and the clients who are being served by the mission. And working at smaller organizations my whole life, that has been the best part of it; you have direct contact, access, and impact with people every day. You get to see the people you're doing all this hard work for every single day.
On the one thing people might not realize about working for a nonprofit…
Erika: People always say things like, "Oh, you must feel so good about the work that you do. It's so great." But it's also really emotional and hard. It's a fine line between always wanting to do more for the people that you work with, and knowing that sometimes you can't and then they might fail because of that. And the stories that you're exposed to and the situations, despite giving as much as we can to truly break the cycle or pull someone from a generational situation, it can be really hard. So even though people say, "Oh, it's such great work. You must feel so good about it," it still can be very emotionally trying and difficult at times.
Lauren: On the administrative side, as opposed to working for profit, I think sometimes people think of fundraising as just being fun. Like, “Oh, you do events, you play on Facebook, that's great.” But it's hard work raising funds. It's a lot of stress. To fill the mission every day, we have to make sure the money's there and that's on us. So while it may look like it might not be as stressful as for-profit work, I think just because of the human impact, we feel just as much - if not more.
On the snacks (or coffee) that gets them through the day…
Erika: I have to have a coffee on my drive in every day. I don't know if I would make it to work alive if I didn't have it for that drive. And, at some point during the day, I always need a bite of chocolate or something.
Lauren: I have a hidden box of snacks. It's actually hidden in my office, and it’s always stocked with snacks... granola bars, or I love the little Graze packets. Just something with a little bit more protein, but usually something with chocolate too.
On the tools or apps that make their jobs that much easier…
Erika: I'm big on my Google calendar, and I always have lists everywhere.
Lauren: For me, it’s Sticky notes. You can't even see the background on my computer, it's all sticky notes. And I have mini memo pads that are like the small version of legal pads. I have about four of those going at any one time for to-do lists, thoughts, ideas. I even like writing things down that I've already accomplished, just to cross it off.
On the things people have done to show them how much their work means to them…
Erika: For me, it was my birthday last year. One of the ladies who works here told me that she wanted to take me out for my birthday, and we went to dinner and I was not about to let her pay. And she was adamant. She was like, "You've done so much for me over the years. I'm able to do this now, and I want to do this. This is just a small token of what everything you've done means to me, and it means so much that I'm able to be sitting here and do this for you." That was a big eye opening moment, for them to feel like they're in a position where they can do things like that now - it’s a huge part of why we do what we do.
Lauren: I also think it's unexpected stuff. Just on a random day, somebody who comes in and says thank you, or leaves you a note, or goes to Sister Pie and writes you a really nice note and brings you back cookies to say thank you, as Erika has done for me. Sometimes it's that unexpected thank you that doesn't come after a huge accomplishment, that just comes on any given day, that means the most.
Thank you so much Lauren and Erika for being not only our first Decent Human double feature, but for truly being Decent Humans who make a huge impact on the lives of people all over the world. The warmth you are spreading is a real inspiration, so thank you. Let’s share a treat from Sister Pie sooner than later.
To learn more about The Empowerment Plan, please click here.