“Save Bees-Save Vets” is the motto of the Hives for Heroes charity, and that’s exactly what they do.
While bees and veterans may seem like an unlikely pair, founder and CEO Steve Jimenez has discovered that they’re a perfect match for helping two-legged and six-legged creatures.
A major problem among veterans is the suicide rate. Jimenez noted that there are more veterans who have died by suicide than there were in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
“When you look at the numbers, like 20 to 22 a day for suicides, we consider that to be an epidemic,” he told The Epoch Times.
Jimenez described two aspects of military service: one is family – not in the genetic sense but in the emotional sense – and the other is the mission.
“There is a culture of taking care of your brother and sister to your left and your right. And you have a clear and defined mission: to defend the United States and/or whatever your commander has shared. So that’s the mission of our unit; that’s what we do,” he said.
But often, after their release, former combatants lose the sense of family and no longer feel invested with a mission. This is sometimes combined with mental or physical health issues.
And that’s where Hives for Heroes comes in. The charity provides veterans with a family atmosphere and a sense of purpose through beekeeping.
Bees and the military have a lot in common
It can be difficult to connect the dots between bees and vets, so Jimenez defined “the social order of bees.”
“On the bee side, there are clear rules, there is a clear hierarchy, there are clear job descriptions, and they all inherently know them,” he said.
Jimenez described how young bees with a specific job will be “promoted” to another job and then to another before their 40-day life cycle is over.
It looks a lot like the army.
In keeping with the bee and military hierarchy theme, Hives for Heroes calls its first-year beekeepers “newBEES”, second-year “worker bees”, and third-year “mentors”.
Provide purpose and connection
Jimenez knows veterans often gravitate to bars, where they spend a lot of money drinking and complaining about each other, which sometimes leads to DWI arrests. He thinks no one benefits from this scenario, especially the families of vets.
Thanks to Hives for Heroes, “veterans are starting to get out of the bar and into the beeyard,” Jimenez said.
“Those bees become the most important goal and now you have friends to do that with,” he said. “So now you have the mission and purpose that [you] used to have in the military and you have the connections you used to have in the military, all towards a common goal.
The charity is headquartered in Houston, but there are new BEES and matched mentors across the country. When Jimenez started it three years ago, he had about 20 pairs. In the second year it grew to about 350, and this year it has about 1,125.
“Last week we received 30 applications,” he said.
Much of the work is done one-on-one (a mentor with a newBEE), but the organization also organizes great events through sponsors. These include education (usually via video) on topics such as bottling honey and building beehives.
A sponsor, TechnipFMC, a Houston-based energy company, partnered with Hives for Heroes at two recent events: the harvesting and bottling of honey that was distributed to employees, and training in the development of leadership.
“TechnipFMC is a company of about 20 billion dollars and we had all their senior management [corporate executives] for nearly two hours,” Jimenez said of that latest event.
Hives for Heroes also participates in events organized by others, such as National Bee Day (the third Saturday in August) and World Bee Day (May 20).
It’s at events like these, as well as non-corporate events that the charity hosts, that the family aspect shines.
“We are family friendly, which means spouses and children are welcome at every event,” Jimenez said.
According to the YouTube video “Honey Bee Death Explained”, a phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder” has led to the rapid decline of honey bees worldwide. Hives for Heroes is doing its part to solve this problem.
“Our goals are to conserve and develop the honey bee as a pollinator,” Jimenez said. “About every third spoonful of food you put in your mouth is pollinated by a bee.
“It’s really cool that the veteran, on a hyper-local level, is contributing to the global ecology and the global environment.”
A life saved
Jimenez served in the Marines, where he rose to the rank of captain. In 2018, seven years after returning to civilian life, he found himself with a shotgun in his mouth, about to become one of 22 veterans who committed suicide that day.
Someone close to him called the police, and the officer who answered had also served as a Marine and was able to save Jimenez from himself.
Soon after, a friend from a nonprofit military organization that Jimenez was part of invited him to a beekeeping event, prefacing him by saying that the bee is his spirit animal.
Jimenez initially hesitated but left, not knowing what to expect. He dressed in beekeeping gear and opened the lid, which released the bees. He found himself “in the moment”.
“All this chaos is actually becoming quiet and is very familiar to veterans, especially veterans,” he said.
This experience, combined with the growing need to help vets who find themselves at rock bottom as it once was, led to the launch of Hives for Heroes.
An active role in prevention
Jimenez knows he and his volunteers aren’t the last-minute ordeal that’s going to show up at the last minute and stop a vet from killing himself.
“We actively prevent suicide,” he said. “We want to get out of suicide, so that thought doesn’t come.”
“It’s not a beekeeping organization; it is an organization of people,” he said. “Bees happen to be awesome.”
Ron Ray of Trafalgar, Indiana, is a 10-year Army combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After returning to civilian life, the former staff sergeant found himself struggling with alcoholism and addicted to painkillers prescribed by Veterans Affairs for battle injuries.
Soon the prescriptions were no longer enough and he looked for other pill suppliers. A questionable pill led to an overdose.
Ray, who hooked up with Jimenez a few years ago, credits much of the credit for his current sobriety to Hives for Heroes.
“The bees…they keep me clean; they keep me sober,” he told The Epoch Times.
Ray has discovered an unexpected bonus from beekeeping: the swelling from bee stings, or perhaps venom, actually relieves the pressure caused by his battle wounds.
His experience with Hives for Heroes inspired him to start his own business, ARK Apiary, where he removes hives from the walls of homes and businesses. For his first job, he removed 47 beehives from an apartment complex.
It is not only the removal that he does, but also the relocation of the hives either in a hospital yard or in his own apiary.
ARK Apiary also manufactures and sells lip balms, candles, jar honey and other products made from the honey produced by its bees.
Ray has mentored two newBEES and was recently awarded his third. “So far it’s worked really well,” he said. “Enduring relationships far beyond simple beekeeping.”
Ray and his first newBEE from over a year ago talk daily, and Ray still talks to his own mentor. “It’s just becoming a bigger and bigger family every day,” he said.
With all the success Hives for Heroes has had in its three years, you could say, “It’s the bee’s knees.”