West Johnston High Senior Serves Up Success

West Johnston High senior Nicole Neal serves up success on and off the tennis court. Recently, Neal was one of just four FBLA students awarded for submission in the Business Financial Plan division. Her plan is for a working, profitable business she runs out of her kitchen.

BENSON – Nicole Neal is busy. The West Johnston High senior takes Honors and AP classes, plays tennis for West Johnston High and the United States Tennis Association, participates in winter track with shot put and discus, is active in her church, and is an award-winning member of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). 

Neal was one of just four FBLA members in North Carolina awarded for their submissions in the Business Financial Plan division recently. While some members may have submitted plans for potential future businesses, Neal’s plan is a working one.  

Homemade Nicole, is a four-figure bakery business Neal operates out of her family’s kitchen.  A proud  Johnston County native and JCPS student, Neal’s passion for baking began at a young age. 

Her cool, older cousin, Sondra,  who had her own apartment, a freezer full of baking supplies, and a sweet spot for Neal, sparked her passion for baking. “She would always bake with me,” Neal recalled fondly.

Sadly, in 2015,  Sondra passed away from cancer. “She was an amazing cook and baker,” Neal said. Her KitchenAid mixer that had made, not just cupcakes, but a priceless lot of memories was passed down to Neal.

She continued baking to honor her cousin, keeping those memories alive, and making a little dough. Turning a profit is icing on the cake.

Neal also serves up success playing tennis. She has qualified for a regional competition for the last two years, placing in the top six. She’s been team captain for the Wildcats for two seasons, using the leadership skills acquired in FBLA to keep herself and her teammates motivated. “I love the family bond you get from being on a team,” she said.

Nicole Neal (center) is team captain for the West Johnston High tennis team, where she incorporates leadership skills from FBLA to inspire herself and her team.

Before high school, Neal had never played a sport or been involved in any clubs. “I was too shy to do it,” she said. That was until she met West Johnston High FBLA advisor and tennis coach Amanda Fisher. 

Fisher and other FBLA members were in the Food Lion parking lot the summer of Neal’s freshman year collecting food and toiletry items for the school’s food pantry. “I recruit students for all of my clubs and sports,” Fisher said, “but I knew I wanted Nicole because she struck me as a talented young individual.”

Aware that Neal had never played tennis before, Fisher knew she had potential because she knew Neal’s parents and what good role models they were. 

A Math1 teacher at West Johnston High, Neal’s mother, Monica, is one of her biggest advocates and inspirations. “She’s amazing and so are my dad and my sister,” Neal said.

Neal’s mother took out the kitchen table and put in an industrial table with racks to support her equipment and her passion. Everyone in the family is an entrepreneur, so they understand what it takes to develop a business.

Success didn’t come easy for Neal, though. It took both freshman and sophomore years to find the right combination of ingredients for academics and athletics. She found those ingredients are a perfect mixture of determination and perseverance. 

She was forced to step out of her comfort zone in FBLA during COVID. Projects had to be submitted via video, something Neal did not enjoy. With college as one of her goals, Neal knew she had to find her voice. “You can’t be quiet in college,” she said. “You won’t get experiences that way.”

Neal also worked hard to prove to herself that she could play competitive tennis by working throughout the summer to sharpen her skills. “You have to put forth the effort, to be good at something you like to do,” Neal remarked. 

FBLA also taught Neal how to get ahead with her business. “I now have a full blueprint of what I can do when I graduate college,” she said. “It’s taught me everything I need to know.”

In June, she will travel to the National FBLA Leadership Conference in Chicago to put her financial plan up with other students from around the United States.

Then she will attend NC A&T as a mass communications and journalism major. She loves to write and carries a journal with her at all times to jot down any thoughts or ideas for future writings that pop into her head. 

She also plans to continue baking as much as possible from her dorm room. Her inspiration is another A&T alum, who did the same thing while she was a student there. “That’s going to be me,” she remarked. 

Why is education so important to Neal? “No one can take it from you,” she proclaimed. “You always have your knowledge!” This self-proclaimed introvert now looks for chances to step outside of her comfort zone. With that knowledge and attitude, Neal will undoubtedly achieve any goal she sets for herself. 

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