As the classic expression goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” At O’Neal we’re presently living this expression as we find new, innovative ways to be successful with daily in-person learning while mitigating a pandemic. On September 11, 2001, the country saw tragedy like none other and in turn, its citizens came together as one community, enacting solidarity across the nation.
From this catastrophe, almost immediately, O’Neal Upper School students pulled together to form their own resolution – The O’Neal Volunteers Outreach organization (ONVO). In fact, it was a freshman student, Jamaal Sebastian-Barnes ‘05, who, with help from French teacher Lyn Cagle, led the way in forming this effort.
At O’Neal, every year, the upper school students are given the opportunity to start their own “club”. It requires a faculty advisor and it must be populated with other students.
“We were a group looking for a way to give back that was relevant to the community,” says Jamaal. At the time, the Key Club was in place at O’Neal. As a college preparatory school, where 100% of its graduates are accepted to college, the college application is integral. Many were signed up for Key Club, simply to be able to “check the box” showing their involvement with a well-known, reputable, international service organization. The 9/11 tragedy ignited the fire in many upper school students to serve for no other reason than the well-being of others. “It was an intersection of passion and altruism. It wasn’t born from anything other than the desire to give back,” reflects Jamaal, who is currently the US Head of Talent & Workforce at Novartis and lives in Boston, MA.
They adopted a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson as their philosophy: ““The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
The O’Neal Volunteers coordinated a school-wide effort to reach out to a NYC Fire Department with donations, cards, photographs, and more. They soon had planned community food drives and other local service projects.
In 2004, in remembrance of 9/11, the ONVO coordinated a school-wide project called “One Thousand Wishes for Peace”. It is based on a Japanese legend that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart’s desire come true. The original origami crane has become a symbol of peace, thanks to a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki. Students made the cranes campus-wide and they all hung in the atrium of Bradshaw Hall for a few years.
ONVO started the blood drives on campus. They’re also responsible for the birth of the annual talent show, that has now taken new shape with our seasonal Coffeehouse performances. The talent shows started for Upper School students and donations were taken at the door for a cause, like the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
In 2012, O’Neal embarked on being involved with Habitat for Humanity, under the lead of ONVO, with a special build called Pasty’s House, in honor of Patsy Bonsal, one of O’Neal’s founding parents.
In recent years, the Key Club and the ONVO have joined forces for service to the community and in fact, O’Neal ONV/Key Club participates in a Habitat Build every month.
Lyn Cagle, reflects, “I think one of the most important components of the ONVO is the fact that it was created in its own uniqueness by O’Neal students.”
Today ONV/KC is a service-based club that volunteers in the local community, as well as, the O’Neal community. All of the volunteer organizations at the Upper School merged in 2019 to form one collective group passionate about helping others. ONV/KC has a wide variety of interests. Club members participate in many volunteer events, such as, Habitat for Humanity builds, clothing drives, food drives, stuffed animal drives, visiting with seniors in local retirement homes, birthday cards for lower school students, Fall Carnival, and much more. ONV/KC club members strive to help our community with their service and leadership.
Next Up for ONV/Key Club — The annual Lower School Halloween Carnival on October 27th!
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388