LBI Vacationers and ‘Buddy Bagz’ Meet Steve Harvey and the Spotlight

The Path Through Funderdome
By DORA DUNN | Aug 30, 2017

Carly Drum-O’Neill is a mother of three. In many ways, she’s just like any other mom: busy, organized, devoted to her family, always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else in the room. Where she differs, however, is significant.

She is an inventor, an executive search professional, loving shepherd to preternaturally poised children, gracious and warm. The whole family is a casting director’s dream. It’s only natural that this woman with the cute kids introduced her Buddy Bagz on Mark Burnett’s “Funderdome” TV show.

The original idea for the Buddy Bagz came during a visit to Long Beach Island for vacation, so it’s appropriate that the family was on the Island when their segment aired on ABC. Residents of Millburn, the O’Neills take the same house in Surf City every year.

Drum-O’Neill said she was climbing the stairs loaded down with pillows, blankets, toys and all the other paraphernalia that comes with traveling with children when the idea for Buddy Bagz occurred to her.

“There must be a better way,” she commented to her husband, Mike. So she put her head together with 6-year-old Kiera and 9-year-old Taylor, and Buddy Bagz were born.

Buddy Bagz are part tote, part sleeping bag, part woobie. There are eight characters with more to come in the spring as the design for tweens hits the market.

Last year, to comfort a friend’s child stricken with leukemia, Drum-O’Neill and the girls made a baseball-themed buddy bag, which the little boy took with him to all his treatments. It made him feel brave, so they came up with a brave buddy, a lion.

Because of their kindness and – let’s face it – the adorable product, publicists started calling asking if they were interested in participating in various shows, one of which spotlights new toy creations.

The O’Neills decided that the Funderdome was the best fit for their project. The Funderdome is just one of the shows hosted by the ubiquitous Steve Harvey. “I don’t understand how he juggles it all,” said Kiera.

Inventors introduce their products, and a live studio audience votes to determine which inventor gets funding, from $20,000 up to $50,000. Taylor asserts that “the crowd was really supportive and made us feel as if we were meant to be there.”

They spent four days in Los Angeles last fall for the show. In compliance with child labor laws, the girls continued their schooling at the studio. Drum-O’Neill said there was no rehearsal; they had one run-through in front of 10 executive producers.

Then after hair and makeup and wardrobe, they waited anxiously backstage until they were called with “Buddy Bagz, you’re up.”  They had one shot with no cuts and no second chances.

And they nailed it. They won their segment and walked away with $20,000 in funding.

Kiera said, “The crowd was so loud,” and “it was amazing to see Steve Harvey. I always wanted to be on a show because I’m one of those persons who likes performing,” said the dancer and soccer player. She is an Arianna Grande fan; she hopes someday to dance in one of her idol’s videos.

The girls, in collaboration with their mother, are responsible for the designs.

“I was the practical side,” said Drum-O’Neill. “They thought of all the stuff to make it fun.”

The Buddy Bagz are cuddle-friendly with plenty of space to stow gear. All of them roll into tidy bundles and fit neatly over the shoulder. There are nooks and crannies and secret hiding places for treasures. One of the coolest features is that all the Buddy Bagz come with a small nightlight.

Realizing that there are people who travel more regularly than for vacation, Drum-O’Neill and her family are coming out with a line specifically for military families. One of the most important elements in making these frequent moves less traumatic is that the kids can have all their stuff at hand. The military line will come out in the spring.

The girls have friends over to determine which designs kids will like and how they will use them. “You can’t beat free market research,”  their mother concluded with a smile.

The Buddy Bagz designed for ’tweens have a hoodie feature “for their privacy,” explained Taylor, and instead of a nightlight there is a phone charger. Instead of a soccer field, they envision a zebra print or camouflage. The bags are the answer to the question “Why don’t I have enough arms?”

Taylor added, “It helps us with our independence, too, so we roll it up, we pack our stuff, and that makes going away more fun.”

They have inventory now that they are hoping will be available for the Christmas holidays. Check the website buddybagz.com and be prepared to wear out your “aww.” 

The O’Neills donate 15 percent of their proceeds to the Valerie Fund for children with blood disorders.

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