Inspiring Okeechobee: Eddie and Sheila Neal care about the children in their lives

OKEECHOBEE — Eddie and Sheila Neal, who own the Douglas Park Grocery Store have a reputation for taking the time to be there for the children in their lives — not only the ones in their family, but also the ones who cross their paths. Both of them were born and raised in Okeechobee, and although Eddie went to Tulane on an athletic scholarship, he decided he wanted to raise his family in his home town. He opened the Douglas Park Grocery Store 17 years ago, he said.

Sheila and Eddie Neal try to take an active role in the lives of the children around them. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

He does most of his mentoring from behind the counter of his store, he explained. Because he grew up there, he knows almost everyone. The kids come in and out of the store all the time. He takes the time to get to know the kids when they come in, and if he sees them getting off track, he talks to them and encourages them to go a different route.

“I’m very hands on,” he said. Eddie has two older daughters, and he and Sheila have six kids together so they have a lot of experience with children.

The store is kind of like one of those barber shops you see in the movies, they said. Everyone comes in and hangs out to talk.

“I’m plugged in to what’s going on with the kids most of the time,” said Eddie. On Sundays, a local preacher named Sam comes to the store and holds a church service outside. They also allow community events to use the store’s kitchen. “If it’s for a good cause, we don’t turn them away,” they said. “Most of the time it’s for the youth anyway,” said Sheila.

Sheila does her mentoring in a different way. She is a sports mom. Out of her six kids, five of them are very active in sports, and rather than sit on the sidelines and watch the games, she chose to get involved — everything from sitting on boards to running score cards, she said. She spends a lot of time working with youth. Chobee Nation is a small organization, she explained and the parents try to stay very active. She travels with them, and helps clean the gym. They man the clock. Just last weekend she put in 11 hours with that clock, she said.

“You kind of have to do it,” she said. “You want to make sure the sports stay on track. These sports are very important because it gives kids a place to be where there is always supervision, and they stay goal-oriented. I don’t think people understand the importance of youth athletics, and I’m happy to have been involved with youth football, and now my son plays for Alabama.”

When the kids played travel basketball, she sat on the board. She sat on the board and was the youth athletic director for the Youth Football League.

When she was growing up, she never really played sports, other than a year of volleyball in high school, but because all her kids played, she just felt like it was something she needed to do.

All of the moms try to work together she said. One mom might not be able to make it to a tournament, but she can rest assured another mom will step in.

The Neal’s son Evan, who recently signed a contract to play for Alabama, said, “My parents have always been active in my life in sports. Whenever we brought friends to the house, my parents treated them like they were one of us. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for my parents.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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