Hives for Heroes
Save Bees, Save Vets
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Patrice Lewis For many veterans, the real battle begins when they return home. The transition to civilian life is marked by difficulties ranging from service-related injuries to invisible psychological trauma that tragically ends in suicide for 22 veterans a day. For Steve Jimenez of Hives for Heroes, a former Marine from Houston, Texas, a difficult transition resulted in a calling to create an organization that is focused on reducing that number from 22 to zero.
Hives for Heroes (https://www.hivesforheroes.com) is a national military nonprofit veteran service organization focusing on honey bee conservation and a healthy transition from service. The national network of beekeepers and veterans provides connection, purpose, and healthy relationships fostering a lifelong hobby in beekeeping.
“Hives for Heroes started in late 2018 in Houston, Texas with a small team of dedicated volunteers who have become family,” explains Steve. “We’ve quickly grown into a nationwide organization, in all 50 states, seeking to serve the next veteran in their local community.”
Beekeeping is an increasingly used approach to combat the anxiety and PTSD that many veterans experience. “Bees chose me,” Steve says simply. “The first time I ever experienced bees up close, I had huge issues to overcome. A friend invited me to a beekeeping event. As soon as I got into a bee suit, I experienced adrenaline and anxiety — many of the same feelings as preparing for combat. I had to learn to trust myself, my buddy, and my gear — and suddenly realized this was a step toward success. Being calm and being relaxed is part of the healing process, and it applies toward beekeeping as well.”
The organization came both out of a realization of just how valuable beekeeping can be for veterans, and out of a sense of duty to his brothers and sisters in arms. “I get to share the experience of beekeeping and how it saved my life,” describes Steve. “We’re filling the need of connection through purpose and relationship at the local level while leveraging an international brand with a clear mission: to save bees and save veterans.”
Hives for Heroes has built on the massive similarities between honeybee colonies and military discipline to create something familiar veterans can connect with. Hives, like units in the military, are highly disciplined and highly focused. “We allow the bees to be the conduit for healing. Veterans can get out of themselves and into bigger things (nature, faith, etc.), all through caring for the bees. They begin to understand what healthy relationships look like outside of addiction or depression. They become stronger and closer to their families — all because of bees,” says Steve.
Within a hive, every bee plays a specific role; but the success of a hive is achieved through the collective. For Steve, it’s imperative to apply this same logic to the organization. “People fail; ideas and visions don’t,” he emphasizes. “A business may fail if they make it about themselves rather than the vision. The organization must outlast the individuals. Our mission is to save bees and veterans. Anything outside of that, we don’t do.”
Touching on an example of his organization’s success still makes Steve choke up. “We were contacted by the daughter of a Vietnam vet who had done a bit of beekeeping prior to entering the military,” he remembers. “When this man returned from the service, he was not greeted well and didn’t adjust well to civilian life. He was depressed and isolated himself. Unfortunately, by the time his daughter reached out to us, he had Agent Orange cancer and was dying. He told his daughter he had never accomplished anything in his life, and no one would ever remember him.”
Steve connected the daughter with a mentor in Dallas who immediately roped three generations into beekeeping: the Vietnam vet, his daughter, and his granddaughter. For the few weeks before the veteran passed away, they all trained together as beekeepers. “Since they were now part of the Hives for Heroes family,” says Steve, “we partnered with the Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University, the Texan by Nature conservation organization, and some local Boy Scouts to put a memorial hive on the library property so this Vietnam vet’s spirit would stay alive through the bees. We had a ceremony on the presidential library grounds with his extended family. His daughter was ecstatic. Her father’s fear was that no one would remember him. Now, everybody will.”
At Hives for Heroes, the biggest success is the relationships it helps build all over the world. “This is a people organization,” Steve notes. “We love and respect others, serve others, and bring joy in every aspect.”
Building connections is vital to all parts of the organization. “There are amazing people all over the country sharing their knowledge and resources to change lives in their community,” says Steve. “From corporate organizations to the backyard beekeeper, from government institutions to the individual contributor, we all share the same purpose: to save bees and save veterans. Mentors in the area take on veterans, and how freaking cools is that? To have people all over the country raising their hands and say, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll mentor a veteran.’”
Steve urges veterans, non-military individuals, and organizations to become involved by signing up on the website. “Once signed up, you will receive a welcome email and follow-up instructions,” says Steve. “At that point, you’re family.” Volunteers can donate, mentor, or get their company involved in making a local impact.
It is mentors, sponsors, and partners that allow Hives for Heroes to flourish. “It’s truly a community effort to have this kind of impact on both veterans and on the environment,” Steve says. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to serve and do so with others.”
If you’d like to become involved in Hives for Heroes, start by visiting their website: https://www.hivesforheroes.com
Originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.