Most 14 year-olds are playing sports, listening to their music, going to movies and simply hanging with their friends. A smaller number of 14 year-olds are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up, or what college they want to attend.
Then there is Jason O’Neill with 14 years of dreaming, creating and succeeding! Yes, at 14 years old Jason already has started his own business and created an organization that gives back! During this past holiday season, Jason O’Neill made it his mission to give 250 bears to children at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, CA. (See photo’s in slideshow below).
With the support and generosity from people all over the world, not only did Jason meet his goal, he exceeded it by delivering 1800 bears! Did I mention at 14 years-old he already received his first college scholarship? Yes, he was awarded Kohl’s Kids Who Care scholarship.
I could go on and on about this young entrepreneur, author, philanthropist and first and foremost, son of Don and Nancy O’Neill, but I will let him speak for himself in this recent interview. (Watch video interview below).
1. Tell us about Jason O’Neill?
My name is Jason O’Neill. I am 14 years old, in the 8th grade and live in Temecula with my parents. I don’t have any siblings and I like being an only child. I have a 10-year-old dog named Rusty that we rescued when she was about four years old. She’s a cocker spaniel mix but we’re not sure what the mix part is.
2. What is Pencil Bugs? Why and when did you create it?
Pencil Bugs are colorful, bug-like pencil toppers that come on top of a standard #2 pencil but are still removable so you can put them on another pencil, pen, or marker. Some kids have even used them for finger puppets which is pretty cute. I created Pencil Bugs when I was nine. My mom was painting some wooden doorstoppers to sell at a craft fair. I had the idea that if I offered to help her paint them that she would share her profits with me but she said that I should come up with my own product idea. So I did. I made two dozen Pencil Bugs for the craft fair and they all sold out.
At that point, I still wasn’t thinking about starting a business with the idea but when I made more and showed kids at school and they started ordering them, I saw the possibilities and asked my parents to help me set up a legal business. The craft fair was right before Thanksgiving in 2005 and it became a real business about February 2006.
3. Tell us about what motivates you? Is there anyone that inspires you?
My parents do a lot to help me and they really inspire me to do what I do, not just in business. Every once in a while they remind me of what my long-term plans are because sometimes it’s easy to get sidetracked and want to quit. When I’m older, I would like to be able to work at what I like and not have to work because I need the money. I like that I am able to help others and know that I am affecting someone’s life through my charitable donations and also when I give presentations at schools to encourage other kids. I get inspired when people tell me that I inspire them so it’s actually is a two-way street a lot of times.
4. You delivered over 1800 Teddy Bears to Rady Children’s Hospital this past holiday season. Tell us about this generous fund-raiser you created?
Last Christmas with the help of a few dozen people, I donated toys, games, books, crayons, and of course, my Pencil Bugs to the hospital. In July this year, I started thinking about what to do for Christmas 2009. I wanted it to be even bigger and better so the idea of giving teddy bears made sense. I’ve never been in the hospital myself so I could only imagine what it would be like, especially during the holidays. I have plenty of stuffed animals from when I was little and I always liked them. I figured that other kids would like getting a stuffed bear to make them feel a little better.
My goal was to donate 250 bears but I had no idea if I would raise enough money to buy even that many. Through friends, family, and social networking, I had enough to buy 400 bears by early November. I was amazed with that amount but figured we would be able to buy at least a few more before Christmas. Then the week of Thanksgiving, KNSD TV in San Diego interviewed me for their news and the next day, MSN ran the story on their home page.
Donations started pouring in and within two days, I had raised enough money to buy 1700 bears. Another few days and the total topped 1800. Then the hard part came when we started tying on donation tags on each bear. I wanted to recognize each person who donated money to help so the tags had their name, company name, and/or website. I also listed their information on my website because it was important to give them credit for their support. I couldn’t have done any of this alone so I was very thankful I had so many supporters.
I was surprised at some of the donations we received, everything from $5 to $500 and as far away as Alaska and Japan. Three military soldiers stationed in Iraq even donated money and sent an email telling me how proud they were with what I was doing to help others. A group of 8th grade students from a school in Michigan held a bake sale and donated $119. On the morning we were loading the truck with all the bears, we received a special delivery from Build-A-Bear Workshop with a dozen assorted stuffed animals.
Since this year’s project exploded into this amazing success, I’m already thinking about what to do for next Christmas. It might be hard to top this one but I’ll probably be starting even earlier. I also do smaller donations to the hospital each quarter.
5. What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have hobbies outside of Pencil Bugs?
One of the things I really like is that even with having a business, I still have lots of time to be a regular kid. I play video games like most kids although I have time limits that I need to stick to. My parents don’t want me overloading on electronics. I have a couple of good friends that I do things with. My dad and I play golf when we have time but that’s about the only sport I’m into although I’ve tried others. In the summer, I like to swim.