The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Creating BEE-longing for people of all abilities

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Photo by via The BEE Community Facebook

Since 2018, The BEE Community has been providing friendship and employment opportunities for special needs adults in the Bryan-College Station community. 

The BEE Community provides gainful employment for adults with special needs and a place to belong for all.

After watching her students with special needs graduate with limited employment options, BEE Community executive director Taylor Ellerbrock sought to provide an opportunity to work and belong for adults with all abilities. Ellerbrock collaborated with similarly-minded Rick and Carolyn Jones, who have daughters with special needs, to form the BEE Community, which opened its doors in 2018. Adults who work at the BEE Community are trained as artisans, crafting various quality goods sold locally and in their online store

According to the BEE Community website, up to 80 percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed. 

“The BEE Community provides a hope-filled sustainable solution to this crisis of unemployment and isolation in Bryan-College Station … [it’s] a place for people with and without disabilities to enter into authentic relationships,” the website reads.

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Ellerbrock said the BEE Community has helped her grow as a person through the relationships she’s formed with adults with special needs.

“I personally have been impacted by it, as have the volunteers that work with us,” Ellerbrock said. “They use their expertise and gifts to contribute to our mission. I think getting to see our artisans impact our volunteers contributes to a more dignifying narrative, where there is mutuality and a relationship and give and take.”

Ellerbrock said the products the artisans create can vary by type, but are all of high quality.

“The products include soaps and candles,” Ellerbrock said. “We have a pet line that includes dog treats and shampoo. We have a stationary line where our artisans shred confidential documents from members of the community to then recycle the shreds into handmade stationary. We also have a jewelry line as well.”

For those interested in seeing the BEE Community firsthand, artisan supervisor Shelby Zerwas, Class of 2021, said tours are available.

“Whether you’re interested in volunteering, you’re a part of a business who wants an outing where you can grow in understanding different people of different backgrounds or you’re a potential donor, or someone with special needs that you think could be a future employee, anyone is welcome,” Zerwas said. “On the tours, you get to see the facility on a workday. You see our retail space where we sell the products that are made by our artisans, and then you walk through everywhere that we do life together.”

On the tours, Zerwas said participants are able to witness the moments that make the BEE Community so special.

“You see the work rooms and see them in action, making the products, and then also see the fun things like our break times and dance parties and all of that stuff,” Zerwas said.

Personally, Zerwas said the BEE Community has impacted her in many ways, beginning at Texas A&M.

“I first met Taylor Ellerbrock when I was in college, and I had a heart for working with people with special needs before that, but was looking for a way in college to get plugged in, ” Zerwas said. “I heard about the BEE Community and started volunteering and then eventually was an intern and then part-time, and now full-time, so it has been really special.”

Zerwas said the most rewarding part of her experience has been interacting with artisans themselves.

“The biggest thing for me has been getting to do life side by side with the artisans and seeing them grow and seeing the ways that they learn so many skills that aren’t even just job skills, but social interactions, life experience and forming a community with each other and with us,” Zerwas said.

Above all, Zerwas said the BEE Community is a place where she feels accepted and like she belongs.

“I don’t have to put on a fake smile or anything,” Zerwas said. ”I just feel truly so accepted and loved by the artisans. There are countless ways that I have seen joy, and they’re some of my best friends now.”

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