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Westside Bee Boyz Making Life Sweeter For Ex-Inmates (And Honey Lovers)

By Justin Breen | March 17, 2017 5:11am | Updated on March 26, 2017 10:11am
 Westside Bee Boyz has hives all over Chicago. Kids get to check out the hives, taste honey directly from a hive and help sell products made from honey.
Westside Bee Boyz has hives all over Chicago. Kids get to check out the hives, taste honey directly from a hive and help sell products made from honey.
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Westside Bee Boyz

CHICAGO — Thad Smith bee-lieves in the power of bees.

The South Shore native and Pilsen resident is founder of North Lawndale-based Westside Bee Boyz, which manages bee hives all over Chicago, including at Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium and several Downtown commercial buildings. Smith also sells products made with his bees' honey, and he'll debut several of them — including honey water, honey pop, honey soap, and honey hand and body lotion — during Good Food Festival at UIC Forum, which runs Friday and Saturday.

"Bees have allowed me to do so many things," Smith said. "It's amazing the things that are available with bees."

Smith, a Kenwood Academy graduate, is a convicted felon for writing bad checks. He was released from a Wisconsin prison on Feb. 13, 2013, moved to San Jose Obrero Mission in Pilsen for interim housing and enrolled in the North Lawndale Employment Network. That opportunity led to a position at Sweet Beginnings, which also manages bee hives, before Smith founded Westside Bee Boyz.

His next goal is establishing the "100 hives/5 years/5 lives" program, which he'd like to start on the five-year anniversary of his release from prison. In the program, Smith said he will help five North Lawndale residents learn the beekeeping trade and hopefully start their own ventures.

He also employs dozen of West Side kids as interns with his organization. Smith said that allows the children to see "agriculture in a place where people never thought about food."

"We want to bring resources to North Lawndale because they're so badly needed there," Smith said. "I want to give someone the same opportunities I was given."