Family Outreach Center

Family Outreach Center volunteers Donald Sparling, left, Tina Shinskey, middle, and Paulette Sparling pose for a portrait Friday in the office of the outreach center in Murphysboro.

MURPHYSBORO — Donald and Paulette Sparling are here to help. For the past year the couple have been building to the small, soft opening earlier this month of their Family Outreach Center in Murphysboro.

The fledgling social center is under the guidance of the Catholic Charities of Southern Illinois and is loosely affiliated with St. Andrew Catholic Church in Murphysboro. Donald Sparling is a deacon there, and the parish pays for the rent of their building on 14th Street.

The Family Outreach Center aims to be “a helping hand” to those experiencing family trauma, be that housing insecurity or domestic violence. Connected to the social aid network locally for years, the Sparlings are able to point those in need to all the right places: where to get food, where to see a doctor, how to stay safe.

Despite the religious connections, the Sparlings said they will serve anyone no matter their faith, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Religion is not a box you have to check,” Paulette Sparling said.

Pastoral guidance is something Donald Sparling, the center’s director, said he is comfortable giving if it’s wanted, but both said no one would be out “Bible-thumping.”

The social services they are providing are their way of preaching. Donald paraphrased St. Francis of Assisi.

“Preach the gospel constantly and when necessary use words,” he said.

The office space is sparse at the moment. A few desks sit in a warmly lit, window-banked room. A bookcase towers on the back wall, above it a crucifix.

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While talking with The Southern, Paulette Sparling was excited to receive one of the group’s first pieces of mail. The hand-addressed envelope contained a short note and a donation from Cairo.

They have a long way to go, and they recognize that. Right now Paulette Sparling said they are focusing on giving hygiene kits and providing diapers to those in need. They are hoping to grow into offering literacy classes and computer classes, as well.

When asked why now, both said they saw room in Murphysboro for their services.

“There are so many needs and there are so few people (to meet them),” Paulette Sparling said.

They aren’t a massive operation, but size isn’t everything to the Sparlings. They have had guidance from Lutheran Social Services in Marion and other established charitable groups. The group is simple and are doing something, to “cooperate with the Lord,” Donald Sparling said.

Paulette Sparling said kind gestures are important.

“It doesn’t need to be grandiose,” she said.

The Family Outreach Center is located at 202 N. 14th Street in Murphysboro and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.

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