Maryville College student’s nonprofit wins $10,000 to save the bees

A Maryville College student’s nonprofit organization has won $10,000 to continue its efforts to save the bees.
A Maryville College student’s nonprofit organization has won $10,000 to continue its efforts...
A Maryville College student’s nonprofit organization has won $10,000 to continue its efforts to save the bees.(Maryville College)
Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 4:06 PM EST
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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A Maryville College student’s nonprofit organization has won $10,000 to continue its efforts to save the bees.

The college announced that freshman Emilly Huffstetler, a Maryville native, received a grant for her organization, Build for Bees, which aims to restore the mason bee population “through education and workshops that teach others how to build their own mason bee houses using recycled materials.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, mason bees are important pollinators for fruit trees and build their nests out of clay partitions. “This unique mud-building behavior leads to their common designation as masons,” the department said.

Blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria).
Blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria).(USDA)

Huffstetler is one of 10 to receive parts of the Be More Fund, awarded by the National Society of High School Scholars. The college said she competed in a two-day competition to make it to the top 10 finalists. The $10,000 grant awards were given to 10 people across the nation who have “an established product, passion project, innovation or nonprofit that contributes to world betterment.”

According to Maryville College, Huffstetler said her family has raised mason bees for years, and she started to raise awareness about them beginning two years ago.

“Mason bees are solitary, so they aren’t likely to sting, and raising them takes hardly any work,” Huffstetler explained. “All you have to do is build a house for them. Then, they’ll move in, lay eggs and start pollinating your yard. These amazing bees pollinate 95% of the flowers they visit, as opposed to the 5% honey bees pollinate.”

Huffstetler said her project was born out of frustration after reports on the death of the honey bee population. According to ABC News, the honey bee population saw a 40 percent decline in 2018.

“I learned that it came down to a number of issues, and I was frustrated that there wasn’t a way for the everyday person to help. As I considered these issues, I realized a solution might already live in my backyard,” she said.

Huffstetler began leading community workshops on mason bees in 2018 and soon called the project “Build the Bees.” Maryville College said she has since worked nationally and internationally and built houses to support hundreds of thousands of mason bees. She also develops online resources so people can learn to build their own.

While filing paperwork to make Build for Bees an official nonprofit, Huffstetler came across the Be More Fund. The application for it was due the same day as three of her school papers.

“Let’s just say it wasn’t the best week of my life,” she recalled. “But, hey, I made all A’s and $10,000, so I’d say it paid off.”

Winning, she said, was a major success for someone who has put in 40 hours per week on her nonprofit, with just under a $600 budget.

“Winning the grant validated all the sacrifices I’ve made. I finally felt like my dream of turning Build for Bees into my career was in reach.”

If you would like to become involved with Build for Bees, Huffstetler said there are a number of ways besides financial donations.

“I’m always on the hunt for mason bee house supplies,” she said. “If you happen to have any old mugs, paper straws, hollow wooden dowels, or bamboo on hand, send them my way!”

Beyond that she said that she offers organizations workshops and can teach in both Spanish and English.

“If your organization is interested in a workshop, please reach out to me,” she said. “I can teach in both English and Spanish, and I can accommodate all ages and abilities. I also do many speaking engagements, so if you haven’t heard me speak yet, feel free to send me an invitation! Due to the pandemic, all my workshops and speaking engagements are held over Zoom.”

Build for Bees is also developing an ambassador program. You can learn more about the organization here.

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