First-Centenary United Methodist Church, a partner with The City of Chattanooga Department of Youth & Family Development (YFD), will celebrate the naming of “O’Neal Gym” in honor of Johnny O’Neal, for 35 years of dedication to youth and families in Chattanooga. Mr. O’Neal will be recognized during Sunday morning services, followed by a dedication and reception in the O’Neal Gymnasium at 11:45 a.m.
“I’m proud,” said Johnny O’Neal, “When I first came here as a youth, someone mentored me. I feel honored to continue to do the same after all these years.”
Mr. O’Neal joined First Centenary’s Inner City Ministries program as part time staff in 1979, providing recreation activities to youth from nearby neighborhoods and schools. 35 years later, Mr. O’Neal is still committed, now serving as facility manager, which mentors an average of 80 youths daily as part of an after school program held at First Centenary Youth and Family Development Center.
“We offer a full slate of programs,” said Mr. O’Neal, “however recreation is just a small pebble. Education and social development are the building blocks of our existence.”
“This was a very easy decision to make,” said Rev. Dr. Doug Fairbanks of First Centenary. “Mr. O’Neal has given himself to the work of loving and mentoring thousands of inner-city children. We simply believe that one of the ways we can say to Johnny, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’, is to name the gym in his honor.”
“The City of Chattanooga is honored as well,” said Greta Hayes, Chattanooga YFD’s director of recreation. “Johnny is a perfect example of commitment to the development of our youth and how a City and a faith-based institution can work and excel together.”
First Centenary and the City of Chattanooga have been partners since the mid 1980s. The afterschool program provides tutoring, reading, sports, and camps that builds self-esteem, cultivates self-discipline, develop better communication skills and teaches respect for others.