It started with a Thanksgiving meal, inspired by a desire to help struggling McLean County residents meet one of their most basic needs.
Much has changed since 1917, but the basic principles of community service and outreach have remained bedrocks of Home Sweet Home, a Bloomington-based ministry organization celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
“The ways in which we do things might be different now than they were a hundred years ago,” CEO Mary Ann Pullin said. “But the spirit is the same.”
Home Sweet Home’s roots are traced to Billy Shelper. A century ago, the candy store owner and self-professed alcoholic was operating his business in downtown Bloomington.
“Uncle Billy,” as he would eventually be nicknamed, came to faith and was inspired to form a mission to persons encountering similar struggles.
Home Sweet Home serves persons of all backgrounds, but Christianity has been a guiding force behind the organization, from the get-go.
“Our reason for existence comes out of the Christian faith,” Pullin said. “We desire to be of service to our neighbors.”
In the decades after that initial Thanksgiving meal, Shelper and a growing group of volunteers provided a range of services to persons in need. Hot meals were available, as was clothing and other incidentals.
With laser-focused attention on community needs, Shelper in his years of leadership offered devotions, church services and such life skills as sewing classes. When polio became an epidemic, Home Sweet Home ensured crutches were available to persons in need of the devices.
Throughout its century of existence, Home Sweet Home has operated out of a number of different facilities in the Bloomington area. One constant hallmark, since 1937, has been a vertical sign, reading, “Jesus Cares.”
Five years ago, Home Sweet Home’s signature neon sign was replaced with a replica featuring materials that were energy efficient and low maintenance.
In more recent years, Home Sweet Home has evolved and provided expanded services. Art classes, for example, have been offered to clients of the organization, and their works are on display during a show each October.
Outreach services also have grown over time. Today, Home Sweet Home offers such programs as Bridge of Hope, which is designed to seek solutions toward ending family homelessness. The organization also has spearheaded the Mobile Health Project, which provides free health care to medically underserved community members.
For all of the work Home Sweet Home has undertaken, needs within the community have persisted.
When asked why she believes the organization has endured over the years, Pullin points to volunteerism, which has been its backbone. Last year, a total of 48,344 hours of volunteer service were logged.
“If you were to put a dollar figure on that, it would amount to more than $1 million,” Pullin said. “The community support has always been strong through donating goods, offering funds and donating services.”
Volunteers come from all walks of life and hail from churches, youth groups, university groups and service organizations. At times, individuals also want to roll up their sleeves.
“We’re well equipped to put people to work in whatever way they desire to serve,” Pullin said.
Throughout 2017, Home Sweet Home has been holding a series of events commemorating the milestone. In early July, for instance, more than 200 people attended a reunion-themed event at Miller Park.
Upcoming events in the second half of the year include a partnership with OSF, which will hold its annual shoe drive from Friday, Aug. 4 to Sunday, Aug. 13. Donors will have an opportunity to drop off shoes in various areas of the community.
A special fundraising gala in partnership with Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington is planned for Saturday, Nov. 4.
The final festivity of the centennial year will go right back to the beginning: a Thanksgiving meal. A Give Thanks campaign will precede it from Saturday, Nov. 18 to Monday, Nov. 20.
“Thanksgiving has been, and is still is, a very important part of what we do,” Pullin said.
— Home Sweet Home Ministries marks a century of service in McLean County —