Those who help those least able to help themselves hold a special place in the hearts of those they aid. Too seldom, these unsung heroes go unnoticed by the wider community who are unaware of the selfless Samaritans among them.
In an effort to shine a light of thanks and appreciation on these caring individuals, the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs (GODA) presents its annual “Gold Awards” in several categories.
This year, Jim and Ann Sprinkle of Evergreen were named GODA’s “Family of the Year.”
For many years, the Sprinkles have assisted families of those with disabilities. This caring comes from personal experience. Their son Andrew, who had a disability, died on Nov. 3, 2015 at the age of 23.
“We discovered that Andrew had a disability about three months after his birth,” Jim Sprinkle said. “It was an emotional time for Ann and myself. His illness created a passion for both Ann and I to help people with disabilities.”
“Andrew is the reason we became so involved with the disabled,” Ann Sprinkle added. “When we discovered his illness, we were lost -- like other families. It was Families Helping Families (FHF) that helped us through it. The staff and volunteers of FHF were always there for us, before we became involved with the organization.”
Ann said their other two children, Joseph and Kristina, were always unselfish and willing to help care for Andrew.
The Sprinkles cared for Andrew’s every need throughout his tragically short life. A room in their Evergreen home resembled a hospital unit, with medical equipment to provide 24-hour care by qualified professionals.
“We were a primary example of the excellent care the state could provide to a family,” Jim Sprinkle said. “The state provided us with everything needed to take care of Andrew.”
A GODA spokesman said the award “is given in recognition of a family who has a family member with disabilities and who, by involvement in the community and mutual support of one another, are an example of courage, strength and unity for other families in Louisiana.”
Ann Sprinkle is involved in her community, assisting families in various ways -- helping to find medical equipment, diapers, doctors, or just being a warm, kind and sympathetic friend in times of need.
Jim Sprinkle is now the executive director of the non-profit Families Helping Families at the Crossroads of Louisiana -- a Family Resource Center for those with special needs. FHF was founded in 1992 in Alexandria as part of a statewide network of family resource centers. The Crossroads center serves eight central Louisiana parishes.
In his personal and professional life, “he provides support in multiple ways to families of individuals with disabilities,” the GODA spokesman said.
“Ann was on the board of directors of FHF when the executive director resigned,” Jim noted. “I took over on a volunteer basis for three months and have stayed for over 20 years.”
Jim has also served six years as chairperson of the Central Louisiana Human Services Region 8 that serves an eight parish region. He is also on the board of directors for Head Start in Avoyelles, serves on a governor’s transportation committee for disabled people and is on the Children’s Cabinet Advisory Council for the governor.
“Andrew’s legacy continues because of the work of Jim,” Ann said. “Jim continues to serve on committees to help the disabled.”
Ann still serves as an ex-officio member of the FHF board.
FHF is an organization of families whose own experience makes them keenly aware and committed to reaching out to other families who have members with special needs such as physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and/or educational issues.
The organization is a place where families can receive help and understanding from caring people who “have been there.”
“All of this came from caring for Andrew,” Jim Sprinkle continued. “The birth and life of Andrew has touched an untold number of people.”
They have helped reorganize FHF chapters in Shreveport and Lafayette. It was the Lafayette director of FHF that nominated Jim and Ann Sprinkle for the state award.
In addition, the Sprinkles volunteered in efforts throughout the state during the recent floods, providing campers, trailers for storage, durable medical equipment and supplies to help make flood victims’ lives as normal as possible.
“My son inspired us to help people that need help,” Jim Sprinkle said. “I guess I will continue until I die.”