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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.

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.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

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