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Stories

Sweet Beginnings: How a Honey Business is Giving People a Second Chance

In Chicago’s North Lawndale community, residents with prior convictions are getting valuable job training to rejoin the workforce—with support from JPMorgan Chase.

One in three Americans has a criminal record. This can create barriers to getting a job, finding housing or even earning a degree. 

Excluding people with prior convictions from the workforce can have a massive effect on the labor market. And it could cost the U.S. economy up to an estimated $87 billion annually, according to a report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

JPMorgan Chase has advocated for Second Chance hiring programs for years to improve economic opportunities for people with criminal records. These initiatives help people build stable lives and be productive members of their communities.

The company doesn’t just advocate for reform; it lives out its mission. In 2022, 10 percent of new JPMorgan Chase hires in the U.S. were people with criminal backgrounds.

Policy in Action

In the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side, more than half of the adult population has a history with the criminal justice system.

But having a prior conviction shouldn’t prevent these residents from getting a job, says Brenda Palms, President and CEO of the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN).

“These are people who have served their time and are genuinely looking for work,” Palms says. “If we don’t have job opportunities for these folks, then you leave them vulnerable to make poor choices again.”

Palms’ organization provides job training and employment opportunities to people in and around North Lawndale. And the operation is built around one key ingredient: honey.

 

Sweet Beginnings: How a Honey Business is Giving People a Second Chance
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Video originally produced by Ebony magazine.

 

Building Transferable Skills

Sweet Beginnings is NLEN’s social justice enterprise for people with a felony conviction. It sells natural honey and honey-infused skincare products under the beelove brand name at local markets, national stores and online.

Participants work for 90 days in the program to learn every aspect of the honey business, “from the hive to the jar,” Palms says. The skills they learn—like working with others and receiving feedback from supervisors—can be applied to any number of other jobs.

The program does more than teach job skills, Palms explains. “When you’re incarcerated, you’re not a person. You’re a number,” she says. “We help people regain their name, to rediscover their own self-worth.”

Since 2008, Sweet Beginnings has hired more than 750 people with criminal records. The business has received national recognition for its work—and for good reason. Less than 10 percent of those who have been in the program return to prison within three years, according to NLEN.

Sustained Support

Over the past several years, JPMorgan Chase has contributed more than $1.9 million to NLEN programs, including $1 million to help expand Sweet Beginning’s production facility. JPMorgan Chase also has led workshops to help NLEN leaders discover new financing opportunities to take their mission to the next level, Palms says.

“JPMorgan Chase has been just an incredible partner in this journey,” she says. “Other companies start to say: ‘Well, wait a minute. If JPMorgan Chase can do it, then perhaps we can, too.’ So by working with us, they’re opening up minds about what’s possible when you give people a second chance.”

Henry Edwards received his second chance at Sweet Beginnings. He knows that a person’s past should not define them.

“People grow, people change, and people can do good work. They deserve another opportunity to show themselves,” he says.

For his part, the second chance he received has opened the door to a better future—and support for the work he does. “My supervisors and other managers have taken notice of my good work ethic,” he says, “and it feels good.”

See how JPMorgan Chase is helping to make an impact across Chicago.

Learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s Second Chance initiatives