West Side company reaps sweet rewards

April 17, 2009 (CHICAGO)

They are turning young people on to environmental enterprises and along the way, they are creating lots of buzz. Admittedly it is a strange sight: beekeepers in a backyard in North Lawndale. For the young people doing the job, initially, it took some getting used to.

Kevin Greenwood, a Sweet Beginnings employee, said "I can honestly say when I first found out we were working with bees, I thought 'these people are crazy!"

It's all part of a program called "Sweet Beginnings" where they learn all about this vital resource.

Beekeeper John Hansen explained, "If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have a lot of the food that we eat, at least the quality of food."

And just steps away, busy workers are learning even more about quality and quality of life. On the other side of "Sweet Beginnings," they take the honey from the hives and create spa-quality beauty products. Their "Beeline" brand is found in high-end retailers like Whole Foods and luxury hotels like the Park Hyatt. By the way, most of the people making the Beeline items, were once incarcerated.

"I think that we have hard workers who might not have that traditional work experience," said Brenda Palms Barber, Founder of Sweet Beginnings, "but they can take that street experience and transition it to mainstream work activity."

Many of the workers are referred by parole boards and the Department of Corrections.

"When I first came out," said Greenwood, "Doors were closed in my face. They gave me the opportunity to get experience. I have learned a lot of skills."

"People deserve second chances," explained Palms Barber. "That's what we're supposed to do. If it were me I'd hope that someone cared enough to give me a second chance if I needed it."

The beeline products were recently picked up by the mark shale stores and these gift baskets were presented to the Olympic Evaluation Committee.

"You walk past the stores and you see the Beeline products. It's just wonderful," said Sweet beginnings employee Tamika Staten.

And now, the company and its founder have been chosen by "Chicago" magazine to receive one their five Green Awards for 2009.

"Reconnecting with our roots really is what 'green' is all about, said Palms Barber. "I think we drifted away from that somewhat. Working with the land, working with bees, working with honey. it's all part of 'green' now."

Brenda Palms Barber recently completed business training at the Chicago Urban League's Entrepreneurship Center. On Monday, the League is sponsoring a symposium called "Catching the Green Wave: How African-Americans can lead in the new green economy."

This free, public forum will feature elected officials, grassroots leaders, advocates, employers and businesses in a dialogue about the federal stimulus money coming to Illinois and how it can stimulate: training for green employment; the growth of good-paying green collar jobs and green businesses; and make local communities greener.

WHAT: Catching the Green Wave: How African Americans Can Lead in the New Green Economy Presented by the Chicago Urban League, the Illinois Environmental Council, and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus

WHO: Speakers and panelists will include: Rep. Will Davis (30th District); Charles Jackson, Executive Director, Illinois Environmental Council; Cheryle R. Jackson, President and CEO, Chicago Urban League; Paige Finnegan, Director of Sustainable Development, LEED Council; Joyce Coffee, Policy Director, City of Chicago Department of Environment; Gelene Brown, Director of Green Initiatives, Stinnette & Brown; Brenda Palms Barber, CEO, Sweet Beginnings; J.T. Stinnette, Director of Strategic & Financial Planning, Stinnette & Brown; Angela Ford, President and CEO, T.A.G. Worldwide: Rep. Will Burns (26th District) and Christian Mitchell, Organizer, SOUL.

WHEN: Monday, April 20, 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

WHERE: Ariel Community Academy, 1119 E. 46th St., Chicago

WHY: With states receiving federal grants of $34 billion for energy efficiency, $8 billion for renewable energy and $10 billion to transform the electrical grid, the opportunities for green-collar jobs and growing green businesses in the Black community have never been greater. As an umbrella organization for the environmental community and convener of diverse groups on many issues, the Illinois Environmental Council, in conjunction with the Chicago Urban League and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, seeks to create a proactive dialogue among key players in the African-American and environmental communities to ensure federal dollars being pumped into the green economy benefit all Illinois residents.

This event represents a rare chance for individuals seeking to retool their careers to engage in conversation with a diverse array of community groups and business and legislative leaders in the critical, early stages of the development of the nation's new economy.


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