Helen O’Neal is a longtime volunteer in the community, giving her time in support of museums and college scholarships for children of modest means.
But O’Neal’s work as co-founder of the Ambassadors of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Downtown Cincinnati has a special place in her heart.
In 2008, O’Neal and a friend founded the Ambassadors, who work to raise interest in and donations for the center at 50 E. Freedom Way.
They started with 16 community-oriented Black women.
Membership was broadened to include men and people of different backgrounds and as of September, it was up to 46.
“I’m proud that our membership has grown in size and its loyalty has been sustained over the years since its founding,” O’Neal said. “This growth in our membership, nearly tripling, reflects our success in attracting additional supporters to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.”
And that’s important, O’Neal said.
“The Freedom Center provides historical perspective to learn from the past, be inspired by it and apply it to our lives,” O’Neal said. “It is important to support the Freedom Center as it brings forward that information in creative and accessible ways.”
O’Neal said some of the most moving experiences she has had at the Freedom Center were celebrations of the Freedom Conductor awards, which are given to people who have made notable national and international contributions.
“Of particular note was the induction of our friend, Judge Nathaniel Jones, who was a loyal supporter of the Freedom Center,” O’Neal said.
‘Warm and caring human being’
O’Neal said her other volunteer work primarily has been in museums and with the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati.
O’Neal served as president of the Donald P. Sowell Endowment Committee at the Cincinnati Art Museum and was a docent and board member of the Contemporary Arts Center.
O’Neal also is a member of the Advocates for Youth Education, Inc., a group of women who have for 32 years pooled their personal funds to provide college scholarships to talented, needy children in the Cincinnati area.
O’Neal is retired after years of school social work.
After moving to the Cincinnati area in 1999, O’Neal was employed by the Hamilton County Family and Children First program as a school resource coordinator.
“My job was to assess the needs of the school (outside academics) and to bring in community resources to address those needs,” O’Neal said. “For example, in my work at Vine Elementary and Rees E. Price Academy, we addressed the need for more parental involvement by establishing parent centers in both schools.
“These served as a welcoming point of contact for the parents in the schools, fostered parent to parent interaction for mutual support, and by their presence in the building had a positive impact on students.”
While O’Neal was working at Rees E. Price Academy in 2010, a third-grade student was hit by a car and killed as he was walking home from school.
O’Neal successfully spearheaded a fundraising campaign to upgrade and dedicate the school playground to his memory.
A memorial stone with the boy’s name engraved on it was installed at the playground.
“In everything that Helen does, she has exhibited her love and support for those who are underrepresented in our community, and she does this with no expectation of praise or awards,” said Carole Rigaud, whose husband, Ed, was the first president and CEO of the Freedom Center.
“She is a wonderful, warm and caring human being.”
About Helen O’Neal
Birthplace: Mobile, Alabama
Current residence: Anderson Township
Family: Husband Wendell O’Neal; children Shani and Kita
Education: Stillman College; Atlanta University School of Social Work
Occupation: Retired as resource coordinator at Rees E. Price Academy in East Price Hill
WHAT SHE SAYS:
What inspires you to give back? “Giving back has been instilled in me as part of my upbringing, and it has carried forward throughout my adult life.”
What need in the community would you like to see addressed? “I would like to see the community rally more aggressively in support of those affected by the coronavirus pandemic – those who are hungry, at risk of eviction and without health insurance.”
Who most influenced or inspired you to care about others? “My mother and my great aunt, who both were very giving people, providing support to others primarily through church activities.”