Heroes

There's a big beehive at O'Hare Airport. It's keeping people out of jail.

Sweet Beginnings helps the environment and provides jobs. What a win-win.

There's a big beehive at O'Hare Airport. It's keeping people out of jail.

The Chicago O'Hare Airport ground crew is used to dealing with nature. They de-ice planes in the winter and roll over steaming hot runways in the summer.

As hearty Chicagoans, they felt ready for anything nature might send their way — that is, until a swarm of honeybees decided to perch near a flight gate one sunny afternoon.


That looks like a bundle of joy. Photo via iStock.

The crew mulled over a few ideas for dealing with the buzzing mass of bees, including spraying them with a hose or dousing them with pesticides. But before any of these ideas could be put into action, the Sweet Beginnings team arrived, scooping up the swarm and its queen bee and whisking it away to be installed in a new hive.

The Sweet Beginnings team maintains 75 beehives in a remote field on the O'Hare property.

The program was initially created as job training for individuals returning from incarceration or with other barriers to employment.

The Sweet Beginnings team unveils hives on the grounds of O'Hare Airport, the largest airport apiary in the U.S. Photo provided by Sweet Beginnings, used with permission.

Aided by a local beekeeper and several environmental and social organizations, the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) launched Sweet Beginnings in 2004. Their clientele began learning how to care for honeybees, extract and package honey, and infuse the honey into soaps and lotions.

By 2014, the enterprise had 131 hives throughout Chicago.

Better yet, the program had trained 383 people in beekeeping, honey production, packaging, distribution logistics, and marketing.

Sweet Beginnings trainees learn everything from beekeeping to packaging, food safety to ecological awareness. Photo provided by Sweet Beginnings, used with permission.

In 2014 alone, Sweet Beginnings added 50 new hives, harvested over 1,600 pounds of honey, and employed 19 individuals (all of whom avoided reincarceration). That last measure, called the recidivism rate (or a relapse into criminal behavior) is a key performance indicator for Sweet Beginnings.

NLEN tracks recidivism meticulously and has shown that former Sweet Beginnings employees have a recidivism rate of below 10%. Compare that to the U.S. recidivism rate of 40% and the 55% rate in Illinois!

It's difficult to find work in the United States if you've been incarcerated or have a criminal background.

The formerly incarcerated often fall back on selling drugs or other illegal means of making money. Plus, the law enforcement and criminal justice systems tend to disproportionally target people of color and low-income communities.

So while recent books like "The New Jim Crow" are raising awareness of this issue, NLEN and Sweet Beginnings are the boots on the ground, putting forth a positive tale of empowerment, and actively breaking through criminal background stereotypes.

The Sweet Beginnings program challenges other stereotypes as well.

“I'm an African-American woman," says Brenda Palms-Barber, the director of Sweet Beginnings. “You wouldn't look at us and think we're beekeepers. But we're out there checking hives, diagnosing problems, and extracting honey!"

Palms-Barber also points out that environmental work and urban agriculture are often seen as luxury activities. “I don't have time for that. I need a job," she often hears. Sweet Beginnings bypasses this attitude by teaching economic opportunity and job skills, letting ecological awareness sink in throughout the process.

A Sweet Beginnings employee transfers a bee colony to a new hive. Photo provided by Sweet Beginnings, used with permission.

It doesn't take long for Sweet Beginnings employees to take note of their bees' dependence on green areas and habitats undisturbed by pesticides, either. Trainees even learn about honeybee biology, the importance of pollinators, and the negative health effects of refined sugar and unnatural skin care products.

Palms-Barber sums up the success of Sweet Beginnings and its alumni with a fitting metaphor:

“You know, bees don't distinguish between 'weeds' and 'flowers.' They're after the nectar inside."

NLEN and Sweet Beginnings follow the very same principle with the populations they serve, focusing on people's potential to blossom in the workplace. As Chicago's honeybee population expands, so too does an ecological and health-conscious workforce, offering not just sweet beginnings but a bright future as well.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less