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Many faces

WAHS freshman shares ‘deep’ message with county for Mental Health Awareness

Photo submitted to Times Observer/Jori O’Neil Jori O’Neil will have her artwork displayed one mile south of Sugar Grove before getting to the Kwik Fill. Hers is one of seven billboards throughout Warren County in the month of May. CORE purchased the billboards to be displayed for one month each. Winners of the contest were Olivia Goss, Elizabeth Kays, and Dakota Hensel of Youngsville High School; Hope Hefright from Eisenhower High School; and, from Warren Area High School, O’Neil, and Paige Rafalski.

Billboards promoting May as Mental Health Awareness Month have been popping up all around Warren County.

Much like mental health issues pop up all around us.

CORE (Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences) and the Warren County School District teamed up to offer a contest — prior to COVID-19 — to all high school students in Warren County. Students were encouraged to draw art to be chosen to be displayed on billboards in May. Student artwork was chosen by their schools and sent to Kari Swanson, founder of CORE, who worked with the students and Lamar Advertising to have the billboards made.

Swanson is impressed with not only the diversity of the art, but also the artists.

“These are young people who are very wise beyond their years,” said Swanson.

Photo submitted to Times Observer/Jori O’Neil Jori O’Neil will have her artwork displayed one mile south of Sugar Grove before getting to the Kwik Fill.

The final artist highlighted by the Times Observer is a freshman at Warren Area High School. Jori O’Neil loves everything to do with art — drawing, painting, all of it.

Much like cheerleading, dancing, and taking part in color guard, art is just a hobby for the well-rounded underclassman.

Hard to tell it’s just a hobby by looking at her artwork.

A “deep” message, said Swanson.

“Bipolar Disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.” A quote from the late Carrie Fisher, who dealt with mental illness in her life, that goes along with Jori’s art.

Jori O’Neil

“It’s important to get the message out to people because we all have and experience all sorts of moods and emotions and sometimes they can be overwhelming, but you shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed whether you have a diagnosis or not,” said Jori. “And it should be taken more seriously.”

O’Neil was inspired by mental health as much as she was art in the project.

“The hardest part was getting all the faces together, connecting them,” she said. “I was so excited to hear that my work was chosen. It’s hard to describe all the emotions that I felt because there were so many. I’m a little nervous also about my work being displayed, but mostly excited.”

Jori, who wants to become an EMT someday, will have her billboard displayed one mile south of Sugar Grove before getting to the Kwik Fill. Hers is one of seven billboards throughout Warren County in the month of May. CORE purchased the billboards to be displayed for one month each. Winners of the contest were Olivia Goss, Elizabeth Kays, and Dakota Hensel of Youngsville High School; Hope Hefright from Eisenhower High School; and, from Warren Area High School, O’Neil, and Paige Rafalski.

“I have been so impressed by the talent of these artists but, more importantly, I’ve been so in awe over their messages that have accompanied their artwork,” said Swanson. “I hope the community will drive around and look at the art and take note of their messages. We are in a difficult time right now so please remember you aren’t alone and to reach out and talk about what you’re feeling. I think these billboards have come at a perfect time for our community and I want each artist to know how appreciative I am that they have shared their talents with us. I want to thank the school district for promoting this contest and the Times Observer for interviewing each artist so that we were all able to know the story behind the art and the artist.”

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