Amazing Kids: Sweet Sisters Tend Honey Hives for Lives

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Carly Molly Houlahan picture

Carly and Molly Houlahan started Hives for Lives following their paternal grandfather's death from cancer. Credit: Hives for Lives

With a big assist from thousands of bees, two suburban Philadelphia sisters have created a super sweet business that has allowed them to donate more than $170,000 to help fund cancer research.

When Carly Houlahan was 5, and her sister, Molly Houlahan, was 7, the sisters started learning about bees and honey-making from their maternal grandparents and hobbyist beekeepers, Andrew and Susan Jampoler.

"They taught us all we know about bees," Carly, now 16, tells ParentDish in a phone interview.

In 2004, Mike Houlahan, the sisters' paternal grandfather, died at the age of 63 from cancer of the esophagus. Carly and Molly had just spent part of the summer with the Jampolers and, Carly says, they were discussing what to do about excess honey from a recent harvest. The girls decided to honor their grandfather's memory by selling the extra honey and donating the money.

After they watched their grandfather struggle with the disease, the sisters knew they wanted to fund cancer research, Molly, now 18, tells ParentDish during a phone from Yale University, where she is a first-year student.

In its six years, Hives for Lives (H4L), the company the girls started, has donated more than $170,000 to various cancer research organizations. H4L honey can be found on many Whole Foods grocery store shelves nationwide, and also is sold by H4L Helper Bees, the name given to youth who help H4L and whose lives may also have been impacted by cancer.

To keep up with the volume needed for H4L, the Jampoler-Houlahan honey is combined through partnerships with a Pennsylvania company, Dutch Gold, other beekeepers and honey wholesalers.

"We have 23 beehives of our own that we tend to," says Carly, a high school sophomore at the Agnes Irwin School in Philadelphia, who tends to H4L business on the weekends. Susan Jampoler, the sisters and Helper Bees tend to H4L and their own beehives located in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"Originally, we were at a Whole Foods farmers' market down the street from us. Every Sunday, we would sell honey at the farmers' market," Molly says, adding that meeting Whole Foods staff at the market led to Hives for Lives honey appearing in nine of the national retailer's 11 regions.

As the honey business started to grow, the girls say they learned some important business lessons and had to determine their vision for the company's growth.

Molly laughs as she tells the story of meeting with her sister about H4L's expansion. Molly wanted to hire adults to help grow the business and Carly didn't. When the then 12-year-old Molly told her younger sister she was fired, their dad interceded and helped the girls negotiate.

"It's definitely a family business and our parents and grandparents really have given us a lot of advice along the way," Molly says. "I've learned about compromising and trying to come to terms and finding a middle ground."

The final outcome was a company expansion.

"But kids run the business," Molly says. The sisters decided to keep it personal, and H4L involves volunteer kids, from ages 4 to 18, every step of the way.

Two dozen kids run the H4L executive board. During production months, the volunteer numbers can balloon to upwards of 100 students.

"We're serious," Molly says of the work involved. "If you are the head of operations, we're not going to hold your hand."

She says adults often don't understand how capable and giving kids can be.

"They are donating time, effort, hearts and energy," Molly says. "No money, just totally because they want to."

And it helps to be able to socialize while volunteering, as well.

"Community service is not a punishment," Molly says. For example, if H4L had a booth at a fair, she would work an hour and get to ride the rides for an hour. A bottling event? Hold a barbecue and a pool party.

Molly says the sisters will find a way to hand off H4L to a younger generation when the time comes.

"This belongs to them," she says. "It would be a dishonor to everything we've done so far. Maybe we'll be on an executive board long-term."

Carly says running H4L has taught her a lot about business and entrepreneurship. However, tending bees also has sparked an interest in biology and science, which could lead her into the medical field, she says, adding that working to raise money to fund cancer research has opened up a whole new world.

"We've taken tours inside medical centers and it's amazing. That has sparked an interest in me. I would love to take an internship in some of these places. Hives for Lives has enriched my life," she tells ParentDish, minutes before running off to an after-school soccer practice.

The business also has helped perpetuate the memory of their late grandfather. Molly, who is planning to be a theater major at Yale, says that, through H4L, "he is alive to me."

Molly says she believes H4L has helped her figure out a "way to live my life" to get up every day and "make a difference and be a world citizen to help someone else." She says she hopes to find a way to mix theater with making a social impact.

The Houlahans have goals for the company, including appearing on "Oprah" and reaching $1 million in sales, Molly says. In the meantime, Molly says she is learning to cope with being away from home and the bees.

But she says, "It's never about us, it's about us trying to fix the world that we live in."

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