Young Jewelry Designer Supports Myeloma Research

By Ben Boulden

McNeill’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at Duke University Hospital when she was in third grade. “He sat down with my sisters and me and explained that he would be traveling with my mom to a facility — apparently the best — in far-away Arkansas for more tests. It was the first time I ever saw him cry,” she said.

Now a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, McNeill remembers the anger and sadness she felt in that moment. “It was not until I was older in high school that I learned more about his disease and how special it is that he is still with us, thanks to the doctors at the Myeloma Institute,” she said.

It was also during her high school years that McNeill honed a hobby that would ultimately make a difference for others living with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in the blood.

“I got interested in making jewelry when I saw companies like Free People or Urban Outfitters selling raw crystal jewelry. I had hundreds of crystals just sitting around, and I knew I could make similar pieces,” said McNeill, who has always had an eye for crystals and sparkling rocks.

She started out making holiday gifts for family members. Then, inspired by her father’s myeloma journey, she developed her talent into an online business, Her one-of-a-kind necklaces and bracelets bring joy to the wearer while also supporting myeloma research – McNeill donates half of her proceeds to the Myeloma Institute to help further development of curative therapies.

McNeill knew that she wanted her hard work and time to amount to more than just a profit. “I pretty much built my business around donating to UAMS,” she said. To date, McNeill has donated $5,645.

McNeill’s exclusive source for her gems is Randall Glen, located about 15 minutes outside of Asheville, North Carolina. The mine offers “dig your own buckets” at various price points, depending on the size of the stones. A $10 bucket typically contains small stones like garnets and amethysts that are abundant in the North Carolina mountains. Larger buckets, that can cost as much as $150, contain larger, flashier gems.

While in high school, McNeill would often spend 40 or more hours each week on her jewelry business, producing 80 to 200 pieces each year. Now that she is in college, it’s more like 20 hours. With a major in global studies and a likely minor in entrepreneurship, her free time is limited.

“It has been hard to make and get out a bunch of orders since I’ve come to school. If I don’t have as much time to take photos of my pieces, then I promote them less on social media, resulting in less demand and orders. It’s a lot to keep up with,” she said.

McNeill continues to be encouraged and inspired by her dad. He comes to UAMS twice a year for check-ups and is on an active treatment regimen. “He handles it like a champ and is always upbeat,” she said, adding that he remains involved in his work, a wholesale produce business founded by McNeill’s great grandfather.

“Though my contribution is small, I hope my business is helping the program that has done so much to help my family and me; it’s the least I can do,” she said.