Beekeeping, Helps Former Inmates!
Beekeeping, Helps Former Inmates! The North Lawndale Employment Network Mission (NLEN) of Chicago, Illinois, specifically, in the North Lawndale community, launched an employment program to help those in tremendous need. They assist many in the need of work in the community but one of their targets is former inmates. The NLEN believes people with a difficult past should have an opportunity to work to provide for themselves or their families (Some can be see in photo to the left.) They could see a need within their own community and had a desire to help people who needed training, work skills, motivation and provide them the skills necessary to go to work. Former inmates are not always a target group to receive help but the NLEN realized if they help former inmates, it helps their community, making them safer. The recidivism rate for former inmates is extremely high. The national recidivism average is 65%, Chicago’s rate is 55% and the NLEN rate is at a mere 4%. Amazing!
The NLEN has many ventures to provide employment but one of their primary areas of focus also helps bees. One of the most effective methods they chose for success and the accomplishments of those being trained was the launching of Sweet Beginnings, LLC., offering the beelove™ product line. The beelove™ products, which is a natural line of raw honey and honey infused body care products also offers exceptional quality.
The NLEN are running an urban apiary in their community, their workers are employed and live in the neighborhood. Their bees produce honey with a complex flavor since it feeds on the plant life of their urban environment. Bees can travel several miles to collect nectar and pollen, so flowering plants do not have to be in the immediate area but it helps. Most housing communities have plenty of flowers and bees can make a good crop of local honey. It is helpful if there are housing communities are near to urban hives.
There can be challenges with urban beekeeping; it is important to plant lots of flowers, wild flowers, plants and even add simple water gardens in the communities with urban beehives. Bees also cannot distinguish between weeds and flowers so these are also very appealing to urban bees. Bees have a tremendous need for water so you could take a barrel or something similar to create a water garden using water and some floating plants to help out. It does not have to be expensive!
Not only do the NLEN respect the earth in the production of their products but they also provide important transitional job opportunities for area residents who struggle with barriers to employment. One of the areas Sweet Beginnings, LLC. has working hives is at Chicago’s, O’Hare Airport supported by the Chicago Department of Aviation. This is an interesting collaboration not just giving honeybees a home but giving their Beekeepers a second chance. These Beekeepers are carefully screened former convicts from the non-profit NLEN group. There are twenty-three beehives on a vacant piece of property on the east side of the airport. The objectives of Sweet Beginnings, LLC. and those of the Chicago Department of Aviation is to help make the efforts at O’Hare to become more environmentally friendly. The apiary is outside of the runway protection zone, which means the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow airports to develop these area.
Airports around the world are joining O’Hare in keeping bees in these protection zones. This land, vegetated with prairie-type plants proved a be quite the field of plenty for bees. The locations are so suitable for them with lots of food for them to forage. Each hive is producing about 150 pounds of honey, which is quite significant. The project also is important for honeybee survival because the species has experienced a population drop in the last decade.
Sweet Beginnings, LLC. workers care for the bees, hives, landscapers, harvest honey, make beelove™ products, package/ship, track inventory, fill product orders and sell in retail outlets or special events. The training and work experience methods transfer to the work marketplace with positions in manufacturing, food service, distribution, warehousing, hospitality, customer service and more. They are working on putting kiosks in O’Hare Airport to sell the beelove™ product line. Many of the airports supporting beehives do sell honey and other bee related products.
The NLEN group looks for people who truly want to turn their life around and who want to contribute to their community. They believe everyone deserves the prospect to work. A company representative stated, “More importantly, we also believe our community flourishes when good jobs give residents both paychecks and self-worth.” Their goal is to improve the earning potential of North Lawndale residents through innovative employment initiatives. They are also growing economic advancement and providing improvement to the quality of life for many. There is also a benefit to donors, who are able to contribute to a highly successful program to help former inmates, bees and the community.
Mr. Patterson, a former inmate involved with the beekeeping program got into a field he never would have considered but he stated, “I got a chance to see how bees produce honey,” Patterson said. “I actually fell in love with these little creatures. I’m going to hang around because I want to learn more about them.”
Bees and criminal offenders might seem like an odd combination but they are becoming increasingly common counterparts. They help each other to survive! A growing number of states have jails and prisons hosting beekeeping programs for inmates. There are counties in Texas, Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Maryland offering beekeeping classes behind bars. One such place is Texas based, Travis Correctional Complex and they are providing a beekeeping program for men and women both. They even offer a 1,200 hour certification program so the inmates will have a job after their release earning from $25-$50 an hour. This program even offers the Beekeepers the ability to reside on the twenty acre property (in trailers or tents), where the bees reside. This program has been so successful, correctional facilities in twenty other Texas counties are contemplating starting their own beekeeping courses for inmates. To the left are some of the graduating students from the beekeeping class from Travis Correctional Complex who got their certificates in July of 2014.