Advocates of Change
By Cait Deane
I met Kevin O’Neill a few years back while he was working in for his non profit group known at that time as Share Your Cloud. He is a gentleman who is generous and warm and it was only a matter of minutes into speaking with him that I was trying to figure out a way to get involved with his cause. His leadership skills and dedication have helped the group, now Advocates of Change, reach out to festival goers and local organizations to bridge the two to aid in standing up for the causes they believe in and giving back to their communities. For those of you who have not yet heard of the incredible work this group does, or for those curious about an inside scoop into Advocates of Change, I had the fortune to ask Kevin a few questions about himself and his group.
1) Please tell me a little about yourself, and how you became a part of the festival scene.
I’m 28 years old, born in Northern VA and raised partly in Huntsville, AL. During the day I wait tables at the Richmond Airport. I got involved in the festival scene how I imagine most of us do – a close friend inviting me. My first festival was Rothbury 2008. I was front row for STS9 and watched Lotus perform while in a tree with my best friend. We were in the tree, not the band. That would be weird. To get super personal super quickly, I spent my adolescence learning how to escape reality, then spent my early 20’s in prison for drug possession. While incarcerated, I studied and meditated and worked to learn who I am and why I’m here. I was released in November 2013, and AoC was founded 10 months later.
2) Tell me a bit about Advocates of Change, how did it start? What is your goal?
AoC started within the Papadosio fan community in the fall of 2014. A friend of mine posted a video about the kindness of homeless people in spite of their homelessness and suggested we all bring winter coats to the Dosio fall tour stops and I expressed interest; he dared me to do it in Richmond VA on October 9th. I made an event page to organize a coat drive and we collected and distributed coats and shoes and candied apples in Monroe Park, a local hangout spot for the homeless. We also organized a book drive for the Philadelphia Papadosio show the next day. Billy Brouse (keys/synth/vocals of Papadosio) reached out to me online and invited the friend whose initial idea it was and me to do something similar at their Earth Night celebration.
A couple friends online from the “Papadosio Family” facebook group, Casey Papp and Mike Lisse, reached out and expressed interest in hosting similar events, so we all began collaborating, brainstorming about how to engage and activate our community. In late November 2014 I rode to Atlanta and hosted a successful clothing drive at Papadosio’s two-night stand at Terminal West with the help of local dosio fans (that I’d never met) and Papadosio’s tour manager who had plenty of experience with Conscious Alliance already. Casey hosted the first art giveaway in conjunction with a clothing/food drive the following week and we incorporated that idea into the Earth Night event. Papadosio was incredibly supportive and encouraging of our work, and invited us to do the next year’s spring tour – they also encouraged us to take our mission far and wide, beyond just the Dosio community, and that is what we did. We applied to several festivals in 2015 and were accepted. As more fans and friends caught on, more asked how to get involved, and several chapters were founded in cities across the Eastern US.
Our goal, our mission, is to nurture our society and environment by empowering our peers through education, inclusive action, music and the arts. We believe that passion, creativity, generosity, and community are key components to healing our environment and our society, and we aim to inspire as many people as we can to take action together to do just that.
3) How has Advocates of Change impacted the communities that it has been a part of?
From my perspective, AoC has brought a lot of us together and bonded us in a way I could only dream of. It has given us all an accessible platform through which we can share and celebrate our strengths, passions, and togetherness for a common goal. We’ve given our friends the opportunity to stand for causes they believe in and to learn more about things that deserve our attention and our efforts. We’ve been fortunate enough to invite our artist friends to paint live at events, have given artists a way to channel their creativity into causes they care deeply about. I hope that we’ve reminded members of our community that each of us can make a difference, whether it be by volunteering, donating, creating art, curating the events themselves.
This summer before Resonance Music & Arts Festival we brought 31 volunteers to a local wildlife reserve/kids’ summer camp called Raccoon Creek Partnership and spent the afternoon transforming the property – we painted the roof, cleaned gutters, weeded and mulched a garden, pulled up old flooring, deep-cleaned the inside, and picked up trash around the nearby pond. What would have taken the staff of that organization an entire summer, our community did in one day – then we went to the festival grounds a day early and threw a volunteer party with sets of live music donated by artists of the community. That weekend we raised over $1800 for Raccoon Creek and over $500 for the water protectors at Standing Rock. When the art giveaway drawing happened and we announced the total amount the community raised, there was such a clear feeling of triumph and joy and togetherness in the air. We did that, all of us, together.
4) How can we spread the word?
You can spread the word by sharing our social media posts, telling your friends, writing awesome articles like this, and most importantly by volunteering and/or creating art for the cause! If you are in or are affiliated with a band that would like to work with us, that is also a great way to move the movement and we’d love to work with you!
5.) How has being a leader for a group that does positive work changed or enhanced your life?
Being a leader of AoC has profoundly changed and enhanced my life. It has given shape to the purpose that fuels me and continues to push me to always learn and improve. It has taught me a lot about communication and patience and has proven to me that if you can dream it you can do it. It has taught me more than I imagined about myself and about our community, how intertwined we all are and what we’re capable of if we nurture those connections. It’s also, of course, given me some incredible opportunities to be present for and a part of some of the best events around.
I would also like to take a moment to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone that has made this organization what it is, first and foremost the visual artists that have supported us since the beginning. We’ve raised over $40,000 in 150 events and many people probably wouldn’t donate if there weren’t amazing art to take home at the end of the night. If we average 10 art prizes per event, that’s over 1,500 pieces of art that you have lovingly and skillfully created, and then given away because they believe in our community and in the power of love. I get chills every time I consider that.
We also couldn’t do what we do without the passionate and dedicated musicians of our scene, often enduring cramped and sweaty van rides across the country just so we can wiggle together and remember what it feels like to be home. In addition to Papadosio, we’ve also been welcomed wholeheartedly by LITZ, Dopapod, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Nth Power, The Main Squeeze, Tauk, Bunk Buddha, Aqueous, People’s Blues of Richmond, ELM, Tipper, Ott, Nahko and Medicine for the People, and many more. These artists have given us a reason to come together in a beautiful way.
Special thanks also to both Appalachian Jamwich and Essential Productions for opening their venues to us since the very beginning. Both companies work tirelessly to curate spaces for the magic to happen, and both put their faith in us while we were still very young as an organization. You are shining examples of how professionalism and kindness go hand in hand.
Last but not least, all the volunteers – friends, family, members of the community. You have all given me so much hope in our future and have been a joy to change the world with. We surely would have given up if you all hadn’t rallied around the cause with us. This has been the wildest and most rewarding ride of my life, and I think I speak for many of us at AoC when I say that.