Listen to the Hive: Beekeeping a Growing Way for Military Vets, First Responders to Kick Stress

A natural resources specialist dons his beekeeper suit
A natural resources specialist at Trinidad Lake in Colorado dons his beekeeper suit, opens the top of the hive, and takes out one of the frames, Jan. 11, 2021. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Catch the buzz.

Military veterans and first responders are finding a new way to handle the stresses that they deal with: beekeeping.

"I find it very beneficial," said U.S. Marine Corps veteran Francis Donohue, of Great Kills. "It's like equine therapy or any kind of pet therapy."

Through the nationwide Hives for Heroes program, Donohue this year is working with Stapleton resident Nick Rozak, of Green Stinger Beekeeping Services LLC.

Hives for Heroes pairs military vets and first responders with beekeeping mentors. The group currently has more than 6,500 members across the United States.

Charlie McMaster, director for connections for Hives for Heroes, said that there is a calmness to beekeeping that can be very helpful to military vets and first responders who suffer from PTSD or other stress-related conditions.

"We teach them how to get to that calmness," McMaster, a retired U.S. Army veteran, told the Advance. "To listen to the harmonics of the bees."

The sound of the beating wings of bees can have a soothing effect, he said.

"That harmonic is very calming," McMaster said, "That music. You're forced to pay attention to what they're doing."

He said, "You look at them, you hear them, you watch them. You slow down and take it in. You calmly embrace what is in front of you. You slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully, calm down."

McMaster said that the calming effect of bees has long been known to the military, with research showing that bee hives had been placed around military barracks as far back as World War I.

"It calms me down," Donohue said of his beekeeping. "I have to be relaxed to the point where I can check on the bees."

Donohue initially got interested in beekeeping through a friend and fellow ironworker, Amr Elghaziri, a Grymes Hill resident who is also working with Rozak to refine his beekeeping skills.

Elghaziri had been working on his own as a beekeeper for three or four seasons. Though not a veteran, he looked into Hives for Heroes because he was seeking "people with knowledge, to show you the way. It's a nice way to learn things."

He told Donohue about the program.

Hives for Heroes, Donohue said, "sounded like a good way to get mentorship, so you're not just winging it. Other than that, I had one of those 'for dummies' books. That's how I was going to approach my beekeeping."

Donohue, who served from 1995 to 1997, said he's been exchanging emails with other vets around the country who are part of Hives for Heroes. Donohue is also involved with various veterans groups, including at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center.

Beekeeping, he said, "has become a topic of conversation" among vets.

"It's working its way slowly, by word of mouth," Donohue said.

For Hives for Heroes, Rozak has committed to mentoring Donohue for a full bee season, guiding him and being available for any beekeeping issues that Donohue might have.

"It's a full-year, hands-on commitment," said Rozak, who also teaches beekeeping classes to students and is launching a Staten Island chapter of the New York Bee Club this week. "He can call me any time he has a problem."

Going through a full season means that the bees dictate the curriculum, said Rozak.

The day the group spoke with the Advance at Rozak's home, Rozak taught a lesson on mites and pest management.

Future classes will entail honey harvesting; getting the bees through "dearth season," when no flowers are in bloom, and how to winterize hives to keep the bee colonies going.

"There's a whole seasonal schedule that we're actually going to be able to walk through together," said Rozak, who is doing his first full-on mentorship.

He calls Hives for Heroes "a great program."

"One of the things that Hives for Heroes mentions is that hives are very meditative," Rozak said. "The bees calm you down, because you have to slow down and work at their level. And that helps a lot of people who have stress and anxiety. You have to give up your own mind and give over to the mind of the bees."

While Hives for Heroes has a growing list of aspiring beekeepers, known as "newbies," McMaster and Rozak said that there's a need for more mentors in the program.

"There are a lot of newbie beekeepers out there who are looking for help, but there's no network for them yet," Rozak said. "That can lead to problems. Bees can become a problem if they're not managed properly."

To volunteer as a mentor or to find out more about the Hives for Heroes program, you can email McMaster at

Aspiring beekeepers looking to be paired with a mentor can fill out an application at the Hives for Heroes website at

The first official meeting of the Staten Island chapter of the New York Bee Club will be held on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Sweetbrook Garden and Nursery Center, 2371 Forest Ave., Mariners Harbor. Rozak be reached at

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