MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

North Lawndale Employment Network

Chicago, Illinois | 2006 Award Recipient

Helping formerly incarcerated residents in one of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods build a better future

Bee-keeping is not a job you might consider when living in an inner-city community hit hard by poverty, drugs, and crime. But, in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, bee-keeping offers good-paying job for local residents, many of whom are ex-offenders.

By some estimates, nearly 6 in 10 residents of North Lawndale have spent time in prison. The poverty rate in the community is three times higher than in the city as a whole. Many of these men and women return home to social isolation that would trip up most people, let alone those shadowed by a prison record.

Since 1999, residents of North Lawndale have turned to an innovative local resource, the North Lawndale Employment Network, for help in getting back on their feet and into the job market. And, surprisingly, bee-keeping is one of those paths.

NLEN’s Sweet Beginnings program, with 40 hives in the neighborhood and its own product line, Beeline Honey, trains the formerly incarcerated in this novel urban farming initiative as landscapers, beekeepers, and food processors. Participants learn the ins and outs of retail sales and business management and development. Employees work 30 hours per week and earn between $8.00 and $10.00 an hour, depending on the position and experience. Members are currently selling their first harvest at local farmers markets, with an eye toward local restaurants, and future expansions of the product line to include honey facial scrub, lip balm, and hand lotion.

This program is indicative of the spirit of innovation that marks NLEN. Through the commitment of its devoted and visionary staff, NLEN works to connect local residents to good-paying jobs—and a future of self-sufficiency. Each year, NLEN helps to place approximately 500 residents, mainly the formerly incarcerated, in good-paying jobs, and helps countless others get back on their feet and on the road toward self-sufficiency.

NLEN seeks out and creates employment opportunities, while promoting community development. It creates a training pipeline to enable neighborhood employers to hire local workers. Advocate Trinity Hospital, working with NLEN, is training and employing residents for jobs paying between $9.00 and $10.50 an hour with full benefits.

When jobs are hard to find, NLEN creates them. When people lack skills, they train them. When the formerly incarcerated need help finding housing, securing an ID, or addressing substance abuse issues, NLEN helps them. In 2003, the state of Illinois modeled its prisoner re-entry program on NLEN’s successful work.


Grantee Profile: Learn more about North Lawndale Employment Network

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