There’s a place in historic downtown Martinsburg that’s known to the community as… the BE-Hive. It’s spelled B-E, meaning “to be,” and “hive” meaning “home.” It’s an activity center for children, but it’s not a drop-off point. The parents have to be involved too.
That’s Mike Schaeffer on his guitar. Mike is the vice president of BE-Hive, and before most BE-Hive events, he’s playing on his guitar and singing songs with the children. He gives an excited little girl the chance to strum on his guitar as he presses the chords. Her face lights up as she hears the change in pitches that she is helping to make. Activities at BE-Hive are aimed at children up to the age of 13, but Mike Schaeffer says the BE-Hive isn’t just for children.
“One of the important things was, since we wanted it not just to be a drop-off for kids," Mike said, "we wanted it to be for parents and their kids, we wanted also the parents to be comfy, so we have comfy like living room seating with couches, we have little café tables that the parents can sit and talk with each other or they can sit and play games with their children.”
“The first time we came, I thought this is wonderful," said Allison Lemaster, a BE-Hive regular, "I can sit and I talk with other mums and I can watch my kids, I don’t have to send my kids off to another room, I can watch my kids play, and I can have a bit of relaxing time talking with parents instead of five-year-olds and three-year-olds, and it was just like the kind of play group that I had been looking for, but it’s so much more than just a play group.”
Since BE-Hive opened in October 2012, more than 11,000 people have come through its doors. The organization is open to anyone, but President and co-founder, Robin Schaeffer says, BE-Hive serves many teen mothers and single parents. She hopes it provides a stable home away from home.
“It’s designed to be cozy and comfy and to invite you in just like you’re coming home," Robin explained, "so we have a kitchen table that we’re sitting at right now, with a little kitchen cabinet. We have a living room with lots of games to play, we have a library with cozy, big comfy chairs."
BE-Hive is funded through grants from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Panhandle and from United Way; however, most of its funding comes from community donations. Each month, the organization hosts free events and programs on topics like the arts, math, languages, health, and there’s also story time.
The Schaeffers developed the idea for BE-Hive while volunteering with what is now the Emmanuel House, in the basement of a church in Martinsburg. Robin and her husband, Mike, volunteered to hold activities for the children, while their parents attended a separate program.
“So that kind of led to our idea of having a place called BE-Hive," Robin remembers, "where parents and children would be together and learn some of the things that we were wanting to teach the children.”
The Schaeffers say BE-Hive has affected families in more ways than they ever expected. They’ve seen children grow as people, make friends, and they’ve also seen some of the parents change. Robin remembers when one of her regular mothers came in with her daughter, and her daughter’s estranged father. She told Robin they hadn’t seen him in over a year.
“I watched him because I was curious," Robin said, "and he you know, made no motion to really do anything but just sat in the chair at the table most of the time. Then he came back again, and then he came back again, and we have seen him now, you know hugging and loving his daughter, and you can just feel it, that he’s involved.”
BE-Hive is open four days a week for families of all different backgrounds and incomes. Robin and Mike Schaeffer say it has far surpassed their original mission, and they hope their organization will continue to thrive, as long as the funding allows.