by Jessie Ammons
photographs by Nick Pironio
Growing up, Bailey McNeill always looked forward to her family’s annual summer trip, one she still takes with her grandparents, siblings, and cousins to the mountains for a week of hiking and gemstone mining.
It was perhaps there that McNeill first honed her knack for unearthing beauty, no matter the situation. The 17-year-rising senior at Ravenscroft now makes and sells jewelry with North Carolina gemstones and donates half of her profits to the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy. “The Myeloma Institute has been so supportive. Ever since my dad was diagnosed in 2006, they’ve advocated for really aggressive treatments,” she says, referring to her father’s battle with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer with a typical life expectancy of five years after diagnosis. Eight years later, he has undergone three stem cell transplants and is in remission. Throughout his journey, the family has frequently turned to the Institute’s resources for guidance and encouragement. “They’ve just been amazing.”
McNeill started her jewelry line a few years ago, when she decided to make jewelry out the gemstones she’d found and collected as Christmas presents for her friends and family. “I wanted to do something personal and different.” The jewelry was a hit, and McNeill realized she was on to something. She considered selling her creations, but didn’t want to “just make something and sell it for myself. I wanted to do something more.” Donating half of her profits to the Myeloma Institute was a natural fit.
It’s not every day that you hear a teenager consider fundraising the way to make her time “worth it,” but that’s the kind of crowd McNeill runs with. Her older sister was involved with Relay for Life as a college student, and many of her friends regularly organize fashion shows and 5K road races for various causes. In August, McNeill and a team of 11 of her peers will travel to Portland, Ore. for the 197-mile Hood to Coast relay race, which raises money and awareness for the American Cancer Society. “We’re all busy,” McNeill shrugs. “I take hard classes and I run track. But I like making jewelry.”
McNeill’s dad, Joey, is humbled by his daughter’s efforts, and also impressed. “Her mother and I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Joey McNeill says. He’s wearing gemstone cufflinks she made him for his birthday in April. “While she loves making the jewelry, the impetus is really the fundraising. It’s pretty amazing.”
So far, McNeill has sold some 150 pieces of jewelry and given almost $2,000 to the Myeloma Institute. “I look at (the stone) and think about what setting seems best,” she says of designing her necklaces, bracelets, and key chains. “I taught myself most of the wiring and I bought a stone drill on Amazon.”
This summer, McNeill will spend a week at the Savannah College of Art and Design studying jewelry making and writing. And as she considers colleges, she’s paying attention to business and entrepreneurship programs. “I think I want to major in something like social entrepreneurism,” she says of her next step. “This has definitely sparked an interest in business that has another layer to it, that counts for something more.”
That could mean continuing her jewelry talent, but she plans to take a break upon graduating from high school. After all, jewelry making isn’t conducive to dorm living. “You should see my desk. It’s covered in stones and wires. It’s ridiculous.”
Until then, she’ll continue selling her wares on the Crystals4Cancer website and its Instagram, which as of press time had 800 followers. And she’s not forgetting where it all began. “They haven’t planned this year’s trip (to the mountains) yet. I’m on them all the time about it. I’m ready to go!”