Meet Comenecia O’Neal, Mentor and Mother to YMCA Youth

September 05, 2018

 

“I tell people all the time, I have three biological children, but I really have a lot of kids.” Comenecia O’Neal serves as a mother figure to many of the youth that walk through Kelly Hall YMCA’s doors."

As the Day Camp Director and Teen Reach Coordinator at the Kelly Hall YMCA in Humboldt Park, Comenecia O’Neal partners with community organizations for youth service learning projects, plans lessons and activities, and takes youth on college tours. However, one part of her daily ventures truly stands out to those who know her and the youth she serves: being a mother figure.

In addition to being a mom to her own daughters, Ms. Comenecia is seen as a mom by the youth who have walked through the Kelly Hall YMCA’s doors for over nine years. She was also a Program Director at the Austin YMCA for 10 years. Comenecia has been a mentor through Y Pals, a mentoring program for youth growing up in high-risk environments, but the program doesn’t limit who her nurturing qualities can reach. “I tell people all the time, I have three biological children, but I really have a lot of kids,” she says. Teens and children involved in sports programming and day camp know they can always turn to Comenecia for help with homework and advice and even call her mom. “When they come in the building— I’m used to it now, I hear ‘mom’, and I’ll turn around.”

Trevon Hamilton, a Kelly Hall Y teen and junior day camp counselor says, “she, means everything to me — I’m always down to help her because she’s always down for me.” He has gotten to know Ms. Comenecia and her sayings very well over the years. “She always tells us, "books before ball" because that's the most important thing and that's what will keep us going for the rest of our lives and make us successful in the future.”

Trevon, the recipient of the Service Award at the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Teen Awards Ceremony in 2016 and a speaker at the Kelly Hall YMCA Future Leaders Luncheon” in 2017, is a junior counselor for the Kelly Hall Y’s summer day camp and a senior at Curie High School. Working as a junior counselor during the summer has inspired Trevon to pursue a career in education.

Growing up as a Y kid in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, Comenecia knows how important the Y’s programs are to the community. “A lot of [teens] are being raised by their seniors, by their grandparents or single-family homes. So keeping all our programs running here at Kelly Hall is giving kids hope, gives them some stability.”

Seeing the impact she and the YMCA make in the families around her drives her to continue to serve. “My passion is to always give back and help others.” Comenecia loves hearing back from past mentees on their successes. “That lets me know I had an impact on someone’s life.”