Who We Are

Phil McNeal Awarded

A newsmaker you should know: Holy Family alumnus honored for progress

Thursday, November 11, 2010
By Kathleen Ganster

Phil McNeal remembers well the lessons he learned while he was a 12-year-old resident of the Holy Family Institute and still, at 41, applies them to everyday life.

“I learned the meaning of a family and how much the support of your loved ones means,” he said. “I certainly learned it here [Holy Family] and, from my parents and I try to show my own wife and kids.”

Mr. McNeal said he also learned how to set goals and stick to them.

“That has certainly helped in my job and as I have worked towards my education,” he said. He is a fiscal accounts technician at the VA Hospital in Aspinwall and will complete his master’s degree in human resources management next month.

Thanks to his personal and business achievements, Mr. McNeal will be honored at the 18th annual Arthur J. Rooney Sr. Courage House Luncheon on Tuesday as the winner of the Holy Family Institute’s 2010 alumni award. Nick Eason, defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, also will be honored for his work in the community.

Holy Family Institute in Emsworth works with families and children who need assistance with abuse, emotional and behavior problems, learning disorders and other issues, according to Pam Grove, director of development.

“Phil was chosen because of his accomplishments and how he has led his life since those two years that he spent here years ago. He is who we hope all of our children will be,” she said.

Mr. McNeal was nominated by Joe Marasco, an employee of Holy Family Institute’s alternative school system.

“I was just an unhappy kid who was acting out,” said Mr. McNeal of the 12-year-old boy who was sent to Holy Family in 1986. His parents divorced, and Mr. McNeal, angry, often ran away and “just walked the streets and got into trouble.” Picked up by the police, he spent a few months at a shelter before going to Holy Family.

While at the residential facility, Mr. McNeal learned how to set goals, how to live with the other boys, and how to turn his anger into action.

“I learned a lot of different things, especially how to deal with all sorts of people. When I went to Avonworth, I was one of only seven black students, but they accepted me right away,” he said. “That was amazing to me.”

He became the manager of the high school football team, worked in the stage crews in the musicals and enjoyed being part of the “family” at Holy Family.

He also learned to appreciate the value of his biological family.

“I realized that I had a family who really loved me, who really wanted me,” he said. “I was just angry at the situation, not them.”

Two years later, when he returned to his mother’s home in Wilkinsburg, Mr. McNeal completed his high school education and joined the Navy. “I always wanted to go to college, but wasn’t really ready right out of high school,” he said.

Mr. McNeal credits his time at Holy Family as helping him adjust to Navy life. “I was used to living with a bunch of guys and having a set schedule, so boot camp wasn’t that big a deal for me as it was for a lot of people,” he said.

After his time in the military, Mr. McNeal earned a degree from Robert Morris University while working full time in various positions. He has been at the Veterans Affairs Hospital since January 2009.

He and his wife are active in their church, Bethlehem Temple Church in Duquesne. “That’s actually where we met,” he said.

Now a dad himself, he also coaches his son’s soccer team. “I always want to be one of my children’s teachers,” he said.

Mr. McNeal’s wife, Janeen McNeal, is a physical therapist.

Mr. McNeal was delighted and surprised when he was named recipient of this year’s award.

“When I found out, I was just beaming,” he said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

First published on November 11, 2010 at 6:17 am

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