Waupun mom-daughter teach Haitians how to raise bees

Gloria Hafemeister
Katrina and Dylon Pokorny run separate businesses from their family’s Waupun home.  They learned and developed their skills through 4-H and FFA and working with the Dodge-Jefferson County beekeepers.  Dylon keeps 6-8 bee hives and processes and markets the honey.  His sister Katrina utilizes the bees wax to make and market special products.

WAUPUN - Kim Pokorny, Waupun, executive director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association, believes in the “teach a man to fish” rather than the “give a man a fish” philosophy.

That’s why when she had an opportunity, earlier this year, to spend a week in Haiti on a Christian Veterinary Mission trip she decided to go.

On that February trip she worked with veterinarians from three states to teach animal care to families in poverty.

The organization, founded in 1976, offers veterinarian assistance and training to deal with both large and small animals.

After Pokorny saw how desperate the people are in Haiti to find jobs and a way to feed their families she wanted to do more.

She asked her daughter, Katrina, if she’d be interested in going with her in August to help. Katrina, a junior at Waupun High School, jumped at the chance.

On their August trip Kim taught the women how to raise bees and work the hives. Katrina taught them how to make lotions and products so they can run their own businesses.

Since there was no running water, heat or electricity she had to learn how to make the products over an open fire.

The trip was a success but Katrina says, “The heat and humidity was so high in Haiti that some of the products we make in the U.S. didn’t set up as well.”

Katrina dealt with the issue by modifying her recipes, adding more bees wax for them to set up according to their heat.

Katrina Pokorny had the opportunity of a lifetime to teach her beeswax processing skills to Haitian women in a mission trip in August.

While there Katrina taught them how to make lip balm, hand cream, rash/cut cream and candles. Since returning home she has sent them deodorant, soap and hair product recipes, all things they requested.

FFA motivation

“I just want to help people,” Katrina says of her own motivation. “Once Mom got back from her trip in spring and showed pictures of the town and what life was like there I knew I wanted to go to help.”

To help finance her trip she raised funds in a variety of ways.

She earned part of her funds by auctioning off her working services for a day at the Waupun FFA chapter’s annual banquet in spring. The winning bid for her services was $1,600.

Some of the $4,000 she raised went to buy supplies that they left with the Haitian women.

Katrina says, “Because of the support I received I was able to put together 11 book bags of equipment and supplies. So after the two days of training, each person was able to take a book bag home with them to continue to pursue making products.”

While on the trip, Kim and Katrina, together with Dr. Kelly Crowdis, the American veterinarian that lives in Haiti and served as their guide, made a homemade recipe out of Neem tree leaves and products the Pokornys took over to create a product to help control and prevent ticks in animals.

Kim says, “We were successful in product development and now Dr. Kelly has some individuals in Haiti testing it.”

After her experience working with the women and young people in Haiti, she observed, “In America our ‘needs’ are really ‘wants’.  We don’t know what it is to ‘need’ until we don’t have shelter, food, safe and running water, toilets and electricity.”

Active locally

Katrina has always been active helping those in need.

In Waupun High School she helped her FFA chapter start a “Clothes Closet” in the former darkroom of the school, now unused.  It is a place where teens in need of clothing and personal items can go to get what they need.

That venture began after Katrina and others noticed that there were families in the community who could not afford to buy many of these things.

While Katrina is only 16, she has experience at making bee products because she has been making them as a part of her FFA SAE project. 

She got into making these products after her brother, Dylon, started his own business raising bees and marketing honey. She wasn’t interested in handling the bees, but since he had been throwing out the wax from the 8 hives he kept, she decided to make use of it and start her own business, Sassy Kats  Bees Wax.

Dylon, 19, started his successful bee-keeping venture in 2010 at the age of 11.  He began with a hive from his grandpa, producing enough honey for his family’s needs.

The next year, he doubled his business, producing enough to sell and cover the expenses of his project. That’s when he learned about some of the challenges beekeepers face, including mites, wax moths, and skunks. Rather than be discouraged, he set out to learn more about the hive maintenance and dealing with challenges.

Each year his business has continued to grow.

He says, “My grandfather started about two years before me. He wanted a hobby we could do together. He lives two hours away, though, so I had to learn a lot on my own.”

The two siblings actually run two separate businesses, keeping separate records.

In 2012, Katrina started buying beeswax from her brother.  She used the wax to begin experimenting with different recipes for beauty-care products.

Now five years later, she has a successful business selling lip balms, scented hand creams and honey soaps. She makes her products in the kitchen of her family’s home outside Waupun.

Both teens followed all the guidelines for developing a successful business.

They worked on designing clever logos and labels for their products. They worked on marketing plans; they sought help from other successful entrepreneurs and they shared their knowledge and skills with others. They planted flowers around their family’s yard that research told them would attract bees.

Both credit Waupun High School ag teacher Tari Costello for encouraging them in their ventures.

Katrina says her SAE experience helped her learn about the communications aspect of running a business.

Dylon graduated from Waupun High School in June and is now studying business at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He has cut back slightly on his venture from eight hives to six, maintaining them when he comes home weekends.

Last year he was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, one of 161 teens across the country to be honored for demonstrating leadership, academic and citizenship service during their high school years. 

A part of that honor is for each Presidential Scholar to have the opportunity to name his or her most influential teacher. Each distinguished teacher is honored with a personal letter from the Secretary of Education.

Dylon selected Tari Costello for that honor.