Mary Sproat, an office assistant for the Master of Business Administration program in the College of Business, has a passion for all forms of art, but especially for designing rooms. And Sproat is sharing her passion with other women in the community by volunteering with the Center for Women In Transition, a shelter for homeless women and their children in Champaign. Sproat began working at the UI as Extra Help in 2003 and, in 2004, was hired as a full-time staff member with the MBA program.
Tell me about your job.
Primarily, I’m the front person and greeter for the MBA program. It’s hard to describe my job because none of my days are the same. I answer student inquiries, help obtain bids for events, assist (MBA associate dean Mary Miller) when she has special needs, and help the MBA staff. The best part of my job is interacting with the students.
I’m originally from Michigan but my husband and I moved here in 1970 because of the university. We like the vitality of college towns.
How many students are in the program?
About 300. We have three part-time programs and two full-time classes.
Tell me about your volunteer work with the Center for Women in Transition.
Right now, I’m the project coordinator for a house they are renovating. It will be the center’s fourth house, and the first shelter for single women in downstate Illinois. I coordinate the volunteers, keeping them scheduled and matching the jobs to their skills, and work with the building committee. I get the community’s business people involved and seek donations. David Kay; my husband, Bill; and New Prairie Construction have been key players in the process.
We’ve been working on the house every weekend since October, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the joy in doing that comes with that: You know why you’re there and who’s going to benefit from it.
I hate asking for donations but it was easier than I thought because people are good-hearted. Local companies donated a furnace, siding, building materials and windows. Individuals and organizations have adopted all the rooms and are responsible for furnishing them entirely. The First Presbyterian Church in Urbana through the leadership of David Kay adopted the kitchen and the living room. A Boy Scout adopted a room as his Eagle Scout project.
I’ve personally adopted a room and am furnishing it in shabby chic in very feminine shades of light pink and green. I purchased a wonderful four-poster twin bed, an antique dresser, end tables, a vanity and wall décor at garage sales and painted them last summer. I am just waiting for the house to be completed at the end of June to begin the decorating.
I originally met with the single women at the shelter before I started the project to discuss their needs. They were very excited about the prospects of having everyday luxuries that we take for granted, such as central air conditioning and their own bedrooms. Talking with them was very humbling.
When did you begin volunteering with them and why?
I started volunteering for the center four years ago doing interior design with their Unlimited Possibilities House. Someone recommended that they ask me to help because I enjoy interior design.
The center’s mission is to give self worth and self-sufficiency to women, and it bears such good fruit. They really do get people back on their feet. They have a 70 percent success rate. Homelessness crosses all societal boundaries: Women lose their jobs, they have health issues or a partner throws them out with nowhere to go. It’s not just down-and-out drug addicts who become homeless. The center gets 200 to 300 requests a year for shelter, and 40 percent of those are from single women.
Since you enjoy art and decorating, are you an artist yourself?
I used to do watercolors but I’ve gotten away from that. When I retire, I’m definitely going back to it because I derive so much pleasure from it. I earned an associate’s degree in graphic arts from Parkland College in 1984.
My mother and aunt were wonderful artists. I have seven siblings and every one of us has been either interested in or employed in design. I have two sons, and one designs computer games and the other is majoring in art in college.
Besides art, what are your other interests?
I love to sail. My husband and I have friends who have boats and we sail on Clinton Lake. We also love to entertain. My other interest is landscaping.
Back to Index