From living in shelters to earning a scholarship
By Jerry Askin - Reporter
Posted: 5:01 AM, August 20, 2018 Updated: 5:01 AM, August 20, 2018
PINE HILLS, Fla. - Evans High School graduate Julien Serrano-O'Neil, 19, told News 6 he hopes his story of triumph and hardship will motivate and inspire other homeless and troubled youth that they can do whatever they put their minds to.
O'Neil is a sophomore at Morehouse College, majoring in political science with a minor in philosophy.
He said he was once homeless and grew up in a single-parent household.
"During my entire life, I had many challenges, some of which involved moving from place to place I never really stayed anywhere long enough to develop relationships or learn effectively, for that matter, missing many days of school and having to struggle to catch up," O'Neil said. "I found myself in a place that has been all too familiar to me and that was being homeless and living in shelters."
O'Neil was born in New York City and lived in many cities as a child, eventually moving with his father to Pine Hills when he was 11 years old after his parents separated. He said during his senior year of high school, he was an unaccompanied youth and had to make it on his own.
"Around my junior and senior year, I ended up homeless and had (to) choose to move out of Orange County or find a place to stay," O'Neil said.
O'Neil says he grew up around gangs and crime, but he chose to make positive choices and always remembered his purpose. He also told News 6 crime is everywhere, and his background has helped define the man that he's still becoming.
"Yes, I've seen crime and I've seen gangs in Pine Hills. However, that is an everywhere issue. Pine Hills, Florida receives such a bad name. However, the people of Pine Hills are simply amazing, producing students like myself and even better."
After graduating at the top of his class, O'Neil said he received almost a full scholarship to his dream school, Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta. He said he received scholarships from the Bonner Foundation and the United Foundation of Central Florida.
"Under Evans High School and Federal TRIO Program, I attended Morehouse College for several summers meeting the professors and the students. It showed me that it was the right place to be because it had so many people who are just like me and intellectually driven in their strong suits," O'Neil said. "Morehouse is an institution that fosters black male talent, greater than any other school. An institution that develops minds who will lead lives of leadership and service."
Now a sophomore at Morehouse, O'Neil told News 6 he wants to continue to motivate and mentor homeless and troubled youth, encouraging them that they can make it despite their background.
O'Neil said he doesn't want his community to be defined by crime or his story to be overshadowed by negativity. He's extremely grateful for the many mentors, teachers and community leaders who guided him along the way.
"It was the leadership of the United Foundation of Central Florida, Inc. and their many partners that believed in me and supported me every step of the way, ensuring that I wouldn't remain homeless and that I wouldn't have to leave Evans High School and Orange County. Through United Foundation of Central Florida, I became very active in community engagement through the many opportunities that were provided to all students. I served as the President of Future Leaders United and the first President of our Youth Advisory Committee with Orange County Community Action Division at the Pine Hills Community Center, creating and developing programming for the youth of our community. Through this exposure, I was able to greater develop my passion for community service and improving the lives of others," O'Neil said.
O'Neil said giving back keeps him motivated.
"Only a year removed from high school, I donated $1,000 to a graduating senior from the class of 2018 that will be attending Clark Atlanta University, one of the many college/universities in the AUC Atlanta University including Morehouse College," O'Neil said.
Click here for more on O'Neil's success story.
Evans High School students fly to Washington ahead of march
By Jerry Askin - Reporter
Posted: 6:11 PM, March 22, 2018 Updated: 6:11 PM, March 22, 2018
ORLANDO, Fla. - A group of about 27 Pine Hills students are in Washington, D.C., on Thursday ahead of Saturday's "March for Our Lives" rally.
The 27 students all attend Evans High School and are in a Pine Hills-based after-school program called Future Leaders United, through the United Foundation of Central Florida.
The students were already going to Washington, D.C. this weekend for a college tour and now they’ll be taking part of their spring break to protest gun laws.
"We’re all coming together as one. No matter where you’re from, shootings happen to anyone. We are all humans," Evans High School senior Kedrine Gayle said.
Gayle said her goal is to attend Howard University in the fall and someday become a doctor. Now, ahead of Saturday’s rally she now feels more optimistic that her dream can actually become a reality. This weekend, she and her classmates will get to tour Howard University, American University and George Washington University.
"It’s good that we’re exploring these schools because we have big aspirations," Gayle said.
News 6 spoke to Gayle last week when she and her classmates took part the walkout at Evans High School.
"We are going to continue to push for school safety. We are going to push for people to be more aware," Gayle said on March 14.
Similar to the walkout day, Saturday’s rally is also a big political push.
Sandra Fatmi headed up the spring break college tour and trip. She works with the after-school program.
"They’re excited to be here (Washington D.C.) because they want to show their support in taking back their community. They’re in school, they’re the ones being affected right now," Fatmi said.
Gayle’s mother in Orlando is like many parents: simply grateful.
"It’s a united force for them to be making a sacrifice to go to Washington to march and visit these universities. It gives them hope," she said.
The Evans High School seniors will return to Orlando on Sunday morning. They took a charter bus to Washington, D.C. The trip was made possible by donations from many sponsors, community partners, parents and alumni.
If you'd like to assist in this effort, go to www.unitedfoundationcf.org and click "Donate."
Copyright 2018 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.
March 22, 2018 Central Florida students will spend their break fighting for safety. The students from Future Leaders United After-school program within Evans High School. The after-school program is run by the United Foundation of Central Florida, Inc.
November 24, 2017
By Erin Murray, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 08, 2017, 11:02 AM EST News 13 Article Click Here
The sirens heard outside of Evans High School are drowned out inside by young voices who are ready for change.
Gayle is a senior at Evans High School and the president of the after school program Future Leaders United (FLU). On Tuesday, she and other club members worked on homework and discussed local government.
“Our goal is to really engage with the community, to really understand where Pine Hills is at,” said Gayle.
The students in FLU understand well the stigmas and issues that surround the area of Pine Hills.
“Pine Hills is known as 'Crime Hills,'” said Gayle. “It’s known as a place with a lot of food deserts and so on, and the incarceration rates are up, as well as we have a lot of unemployment.”
But the students also understand that creating change means getting involved. So after their FLU meeting ended, the same young students attended the Pine Hills community meeting a few hours later.
Tuesday’s main topic on the agenda was the budget for the next year and how it works. Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, Orange County District 6 Commissioner Victoria Siplin, and Orange County Budget Manager Kurt Petersen all took turns fielding questions and sharing information.
Many people in the crowd asked questions, including three FLU students.
“Is there a specific time for that money to be used up or is it automatically go into the next budget year?” asked Gayle. She and her fellow students left inspired and with ideas about how to apply for grants. “I do believe we shouldn’t let finance be an excuse for not achieving our goals, for not achieving our dreams,” said Gayle. “So I do believe this money will be used in a very good way.”
By News 13 Florida | May 23, 2017 @3:12 PM
Julien O’Neil and Arry Rendel live in and love Pine Hills.
"Congratulations on your acceptance to Morehouse College," said O’Neil, holding the acceptance letter.
College is a dream he has had for a very long time.
"This is where I want to be," he grinned, thinking about Morehouse.
However, college was not always in his plans.
"At one point in time I was a student who was known as an MVP, which is a student who is classified as homeless," said O’Neil. "I lived being homeless, I lived being around drugs, I lived that lifestyle. I knew what that was because it was around me and I said to myself, 'I want to have better.'"
Rendel will be going to Valencia College. And like O’Neil, there was a point in his life he did not think college would be possible to attend or even get into college.
"It’s hard out there, once you go down the wrong path, it’s hard to steer to the right path," said Rendel.
He remembers hanging out with a rough crowd in his younger years. He said they encouraged him not to study, but to live a life of crime. He said during this he had an epiphany.
"That is something that can change your life," said Julien O’Neil when talking about after-school programs. (News 13)
"I keep getting in trouble. I keep getting referrals and my mom be like, 'You are never going to be anything if you keep going down this wrong path. You need to stop hanging out with these people,'" said Rendel.
What turned both around were after school activities like Future Leaders United and the United Foundation of Central Florida.
"That is something that can change your life," said O’Neil when talking about after-school programs.
But Rendel and O’Neil did not realize that after school programs would help them even more, by awarding them scholarships to help pay for college.
"College is not cheap," said Rendel.
The community of Pine Hills and their mentor Sandra Fatmi stepped up to get the money for 14 students.
"Without this I probably wouldn't be going to school," said O’Neil.
"Once I am done, I want to come back and try to support other after-school programs as well," said Rendel.
Both teens will receive their scholarships Saturday with 14 other deserving students from Pine Hills.
The ceremony will be at the Worship Center on Silver Star Road from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.