By Maria Fredericks
Greater Glory, a southern gospel group from Elizabethton, will sing during an upcoming benefit concert in praise for Haley Neal, a 17-year old high school senior who passed away suddenly in her sleep last April.
Haley, who attended Sullivan East High School, suffered from a rare complication associated with epilepsy called Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy, or SUDEP.
Event coordinator Jamie Fox is proud to be organizing the concert. Following Haley’s death, Fox said the family contacted him about starting a scholarship fund in order to keep Haley’s memory alive and to provide assistance to SEHS seniors with plans to further their education. The scholarship will be awarded each year to one prospective senior.
“Haley was such a sweet girl,” Fox said. “She was very involved in her church.”
Chad Hawkins, Haley’s uncle, reflected on his personal memories and thoughts of Haley.
Hawkins said Haley was extremely involved in her community. She ran cross country and worked on the year book staff her senior year. She was devoted to her youth group at Cross Point Church.
“She was very close with her family and friends,” Hawkins said. “She was always caring and thoughtful of others.”
He discussed her relationship with her younger brother Jacob.
“They did fight like siblings do, but they were close,” he said. “They were at the age where they spent time with each other. She would pick him up from school. He misses her terribly.”
Fox, who organized the gospel concert last year for Haley, hopes to continue his efforts in order to progress the event.
“Last year we just had a benefit concert for Haley,” he said. “This year we are calling it Melody in the Mountains. We have given it a name and we are going to continue doing it. It will be a yearly event.”
Fox, who is also a member of Greater Glory, said he is grateful for the success of last year’s event.
“We sang outdoors in Anderson Park in Bristol,” he said. “We raised $2,700. This year we hope things will be bigger.”
Fox said Haley’s death deeply affected her friends and family.
“Her family was crazy about her,” he said. “She had so many friends at Sullivan East High School. She was loved by everybody.”
Fox also noted that friends and family devoted a Facebook memorial page in her memory.
“Her friends still talk about her on Facebook even after a year,” he said. “They still post comments about how much they miss her.”
Just before her death, Haley had been planning for her future. Fox said she considered going into a medical profession but had not decided on a specialty.
“I think she was leading toward nursing or ultra sound,” he said.
This year’s concert will include a special preliminary talent search at 12:30 p.m. at the SEHS in Bluff City. The talent search will offer gifted gospel singers the chance to compete against each other for prizes. Fox added the talent search was a means to raise more money for the Haley Memorial Scholarship Fund. Contestants must pay an entry fee to compete.
“I am hoping it will add a little something to it,” Fox said. “I want it to bring people in and give them a chance to win some prizes while having a good time and raising money for the Haley scholarship.”
The winner of the talent search will become the opening act for the evening concert on Saturday, April 6, at 6 p.m. at SEHS. There is no charge for the concert, but donations are appreciated.
The show will also feature the professional southern gospel group, The Whisnants from Morganton, N.C., and His Mercies from Marion, N.C. The proceeds from the talent search and donations from the concert will go to the Haley Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Fox has been pleased with the assistance with this year’s concert and looks forward to growing the concert each year.
“These groups are donating their time and talent for the Haley Memorial Fund,” he said. “Each year we hope to grow it into a bigger event.”