Billy Shelper, a Downtown Bloomington candy store owner and self-professed alcoholic, started the Home Sweet Home City Rescue Mission on Thanksgiving Day 1917. When a tent revival meeting came to town, Billy was led to salvation by the famed evangelists Billy Sunday and Mel Trotter. Shortly thereafter, Billy began a ministry in the McLean County jail. After ten years, he felt God was calling him to do more to help the poor and hungry.
After he opened the doors of Home Sweet Home, Billy soon became a pillar of the Bloomington community. Folks always knew they could count on Uncle Billy, as he was called, for a hot meal and a Bible.
Billy spent the next 35 years of his life working tirelessly to spread the message of salvation to everyone who crossed his path or who entered the doors of the mission. Church services were held every night, except for 3 nights during the great influenza. Billy and his volunteers served meals and provided clothing, sewing classes, devotions, church services and even crutches during the polio epidemic that swept the country.
Billy became a man after God's own heart and believed that one could only find hope and lasting change in one's life by having Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior. He believed Jesus was at the heart of any true change that occurred in one's life. Through the years, thousands of people gave and volunteered and thousands were saved and fed both physically and spiritually.
It is this legacy, Billy's legacy of serving those in need with Christ's love, that sparks the passion and commitment of our staff, volunteers and donors. God's provision over nearly a century has enabled Home Sweet Home to minister to the hungry, homeless and hopeless in the Bloomington and Normal communities.
The Jesus Cares sign is another major part of our history. The sign was replaced in 2013 to help celebrate Home Sweet Home Ministries' 95th anniversary. The old sign, commissioned in 1937 by Billy Shelper, has traveled with the mission as it moved to different buildings over the years. It is one of the last remaining items Billy Shelper touched at HSHM today.
The new sign is a replica of the old sign but made of modern, energy efficient, low maintenance materials. A replica was made because the cost to fully restore the old sign's facade, transformers, and neon tub lighting was over $20,000 and special considerations would have to be made with the neon tubing due to EPA laws.
Fundraising for the new replica sign started in 2007. Many people contributed to the sign and a former client, with a passion for the sign, did a good deal of fundraising. The fundraising stalled and did not take off again until a tragedy occurred in the HSHM family. A staff member suddenly lost her husband in May of 2012. Her family decided to direct memorials to the sign's refurbishment because her husband remembered seeing the sign lit up as a child, when he traveled to Bloomington with his grandparents. In October of 2012, another family designated memorial funds in honor of their son.
This sign has been a part of our history for 97 years. But to many in our community, it is more than a sign, it's a reminder of our God's faithfulness.
Be joyful in HOPE, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayerRomans 12:12