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O’NEILL ebecca “Becky” O’Neill is an attorney and clinical law professor with the Southern Illinois University School of Law Legal Clinic. She grew up in Johnston City, went to John A. Logan College, SIUC and then SIU School of Law. She practiced law for three years, starting in 1988, and has been at the legal clinic since 1991.


While O’Neill teaches students the finer points of law, her passion in her position at the legal clinic is to help the less fortunate with legal assistance, particularly the elderly, and to impress upon her students the importance of doing the same, now and in the future. O’Neill established and continues to support the Bessie Engram Community Service Award at SIU School of Law, which provides an annual monetary award to the SIU law student who demonstrates the most community service to the elderly. Mary Rudasill, former director of clinical programs at SIUC, in her support of O’Neill as the 2004-2005 winner of the Lindell B. Sturgis Public Service Award at SIUC, noted that, in ONeill’s approach with elderly clients, she “sets a great example for our law students. She demonstrates that you can be an extremely ethical, competent and successful attorney while still treating everyone involved with respect.” Rudasill went on to note that, “For several years, she took students to the soup kitchen in Marion and provided short-term legal services to those who came for the daily free meal. These special activities relate to one of Becky’s main teaching objectives — to impress upon law students the great need for pro bono legal service activities after they graduate and start their practice. “It does not take too many road trips



through rural Southern Illinois to demonstrate to law students that many, many people cannot afford to hire an attorney to address their legal problems. Becky’s students will certainly be among those lawyers who understand this need.” O’Neill routinely volunteers to make presentations on legal issues of concern to the elderly. These presentations, which are not part of her employment duties, usually take place outside of regular work hours, and she travels all over Southern Illinois to make them. Through the presentations, she shares legal information with agency personnel, organizations for the elderly and others who may serve the elderly through their employment. However, O’Neill’s passion for helping extends beyond just legal services for the elderly. In fact, some might say it is at the opposite end of the spectrum. “When my son was in junior high, he was in a musical at school,” she recalls. The company that produces musicals for rental at schools hosted an international theater festival in Atlanta that year. “The school district couldn’t afford to send the kids, so a group of five of us mothers took our children there to participate,” she continues. “We won, so we then started thinking about ways to give other children in Southern Illinois the same opportunities to participate in the arts.” The next summer, O’Neill drafted the paperwork to get a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established to do just that. It is called ArtStarts. She recruited a board of directors and began locating volunteers to help with the organization — to bring the vision of ArtStarts to life. She is currently president of the organization. The goal of ArtStarts, which serves the southern 14 counties of Illinois, is to provide opportunities in the arts for youth ages 5 through 18, particularly to those who might not otherwise be able to participate because of economic barriers. The organization sponsors a number

of events. These include putting on summer theater camps, hosting art competitions and offering scholarships for students of underserved populations who plan to pursue an art-related field in college. ArtStarts also produces spring musicals. “These are huge productions, which are held at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center each year, and our shows usually sell out,” O’Neill says. These spring shows will usually draw 4,000 to 6,000 people each year. The organization also produces a large dance show in the fall. “About nine charities participate,” she explains. They have couples who dance, similar to “Dancing with the Stars,” and the participants earn funds for their charities. “During these shows, we have huge production numbers that the children put on,” she adds. Last year, that event raised about $95,000 for charities. During these various events, the youth members manage the stages, assist with costuming and choreography, sell ads for the programs, manage the box offices, work as ushers, sell merchandise, handle the lighting and music, manage the sound and MAY 2010

Leaders Among Us  

Southern Illinoisans who have a positive impact on their communities

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