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.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Cayce LaCorte explains why virginity doesn't exist.

The concept of virginity is a very loaded issue in American culture. If a woman loses hers when she's too young she can be slut-shamed. If a man remains a virgin for too long, he can be bullied for not being manly enough.

There is also a whole slew of religious mind games associated with virginity that can give people some serious psychological problems associated with sex.

Losing one's virginity has also been blown up way beyond proportion. It's often believed that it's a magical experience—it's usually not. Or that after having sex for the first time people can really start to enjoy living life—not the case.

What if we just dropped all of the stigmas surrounding virginity and instead, replaced them with healthy attitudes toward sex and relationships?

Writer Cayce LaCorte is going viral on TikTok for the simple way she's taught her five daughters to think about virginity. They don't have to. LaCorte shared her parenting ideas on TikTok in response to mom-influencer Nevada Shareef's question: "Name something about the way you raised your kids that people think is weird but you think is healthy."

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

@bluffbakes on Tiktok

Chloe Sexton—baker, business owner, mother—knows all too well about "daddy privilege," that is, when men receive exorbitant amounts of praise for doing normal parental duties. You know, the ones that moms do without so much as a thank you.

In a lighthearted (while nonetheless biting) TikTok video, Chloe shares a "fun little story about 'daddy privilege'" that has now gone viral—no doubt due in part because working moms can relate to this on a deep, personal and infuriating level.

Chloe's TED Talks-worthy rant begins with:

"My husband has a job. I have a business, my husband has a job. Could not make that any clearer, right? Well, my bakery requires that we buy certain wholesale ingredients at this place called Restaurant Depot every week. You've seen me do videos of it before where I'm, like, wearing him or was massively pregnant buying 400 pounds of flour and 100 pounds of butter, and that's a weekly thing. The list goes on and on, like — it's a lot."
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Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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