Our Story

Seeking The Renewal Of The City Since 1905

Since 1905, Sunshine has been a presence in the most challenging communities of Chicago.  We have weathered various ups and downs, survived two pandemics (1919 and 2020), multiple Presidents, and mayors.  God has carried us through the race riots of 1919, the Civil Rights movement, urban renewal, multiple displacements, and several different iterations of our ministry.  Though many things have changed throughout the years, three things have remained constant;  We have always been focused on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, seeking the peace (Shalom) of the city, and serving the most under-resourced communities of Chicago. 

Moody Mission

We were founded in 1905 by Moody Church as The Moody Mission.  The focus at the time was serving single mothers in an impoverished area of the city, near 604 N. Clark St.

Chicago's Musical Mission

Following his father’s passing, William Dillon took over the work from his father. He and his wife Mildred along with Roy Oestreicher, Lester & Brita Wilcox, Lee & Phyllis Frizane, Irene Williams, Hazel Neswold, Harvey Proust, and Henry Staalsen held gospel oriented services, Sunday schools and Boy and Girls clubs, on Clark street.  During this time Sunshine was also dubbed “Chicago’s Musical Mission” writing many hymns and choruses to be used by the church at large. 

Sunshine Gospel Mission

In 1918 the mission was about to give up the work and sell the equipment when M.B. Dillon asked to purchase it and was given it free of charge if he was willing to take over the work. At that time he changed the name to Sunshine Gospel Mission and was it’s superintendent until he passed away in 1941.

Sun-Chi-Win Camp

In 1944 after the war, Sunshine started taking youth to camp in Pembine, WI on Lake Lundgren.  This experience was called Camp Sun-Chi-Win. (1944) They hosted camp there until 1959 when they bought a camp in Union Michigan after being run out of town in Pembine due to racial tensions. Dorothy Ferret, a former camp counselor, told stories of kids being locked onto the train cars and not being let out until all the other passengers had gotten off. Then the Sheriff would escort them to the camp so there would be no trouble.

New Location

From 1959-1999 Sunshine ran Camp Sun-Chi-Win in Union, MI.

Cabrini Green | Urban Renewal

Sunshine purchases a building in Cabrini-Green- The pressure from the redevelopment combined with the shift in focus to youth ultimately led the leadership of Sunshine to relocate to Cabrini Green and to change the name once again, this time to Sunshine Gospel Ministries.  1960s and 70’s the city of Chicago identified “blighted” areas of poverty across the city while simultaneously beginning to build large-scale low-income housing projects.  
Period of “Urban Renewal” and displacement- During the 1960s and 70’s the city of Chicago identified “blighted” areas of poverty across the city while simultaneously beginning to build large-scale low-income housing projects.  Sunshine’s building on Clark St. was targeted for demolition and many families in the area displaced.  The displacement of the area led Sunshine to increasingly focus on youth living in the nearby Cabrini Green community.

Youth Outreach Programs

Cabrini Green housing project was originally built as temporary transitional housing for returning war veterans.  Soon, however, it became permanent low-income housing even though the units were not designed well nor intended to have families and children live there for long.  Sunshine felt this was all the more reason to be there to reach young people and focused on youth outreach programs throughout the year and operating camp Sun-Chi-Win, primarily during summers.

Dana Thompson Becomes The Executive Director

During the 1980s and 90s, the mounting costs of maintaining the camp property in Michigan,  as well as the Chicago building led to a financial situation that seemed unsustainable. The board decided to sell the Larabee building and use the funds to hire a full time director.  Dana and his wife Bridget concluded that God wanted them to leave a successful career in corporate management and join the fledgling organization.

Joel and Paula Hamernick are hired to Direct Camp Sun-Chi-Win

While Dana had a solid hand on what God was calling the ministry to accomplish with youth in Cabrini, he was less certain about what do to with an ailing camp property 100 miles away.

Joel and Paula Hamernick both attended Moody and met Dana during a camp fair at the school.  They were praying about starting a camp to serve kids from the city during summer and church groups during the rest of the year.  The providential meeting between Dana and Joel ultimately led to the Hamernicks joining the staff to rebuild Sun-Chi-Win camp (renaming it Sunshine Cove).  Joel worked under Dana Thomas as they began to re-establish camp along with partnership with church Covenant Presbyterian

Sunshine Cove

Camp is renamed Sunshine Cove (1990’s FCA partnership turned into SLAM which eventually became GRIP)

Joel Hamernick is hired as Executive Director

As Dana Thomas left for another opportunity, Joel Hamernick stepped into the role of Executive Director. Since 1995 the city had begun a new “Urban Renewal” project, tearing down many public high rise communities. Cabrini-Green, the neighborhood Sunshine had operated in since the 70’s, was targeted in the early 2000’s for demolition. In order to have room to grow, in anticipation of a larger move to another part of the city, Sunshine moved to an unoccupied building owned by Moody Bible Institute at 315 Walton.

Sunshine became affiliated with Christian Community Development Association (CCDA)

As they continue to run the operations of camp Sunshine Cove, the Hamernicks worldview and approach to ministry began to change as a result of learning from various other urban ministry leaders through the CCDA conference.  

In the early 2000s it became clear that public housing families from across the city were moving to Chicago’s Southside

Three communities, South Shore, Englewood and Woodlawn (in the middle) were the top three neighborhoods in the city for relocated public housing families. After much prayer and reflection the Hamernicks moved into the community and Sunshine purchased a severely dilapidated building at 500 East 61st Street in Woodlawn.

BridgeBuilders program is launched

As part of the CCDA philosophy of healthy ministry, Sunshine began the BridgeBuilders program to invite outside groups to service-learning opportunities in the neighborhood. Aaron Roy was hired as the first BridgeBuilders director.


They used the proceeds to accelerate the renovation of the Woodlawn property. The Lord had blessed the ministry with 50 years of camping at Sun-Chi-Win/Sunshine Cove, but a new season was unfolding that required the time, attention and resources of the ministry to concentrate on the community where the youth and families the ministry lived were living.


Since the 1970s, Sunshine’s ministry has centered around serving youth growing up in extremely challenging settings. In the Woodlawn community, youth continue to the heartbeat of our organization.


As a response to address the lack of work opportunities in the community, Joel Hamernick and Ethan Daly launched Sunshine Enterprises, an entrepreneurship training program and support center, as a new division of Sunshine Gospel Ministries. It has since broken off into an independent non-profit and, as of 2021, has graduated 1,000 entrepreneurs across the city!


An abandoned store-front building at 501 E. 61st St. was purchased and renovations began to convert it into more youth space, offices, and eventually a coffee shop.


From 2014 to 2019 Woodlawn Community Church operated inside the 500 East 61st street property.


Sunshine opened Greenline Coffee Shop as a way to support business growth and employment in the community. Though it was never able to maintain consistent profitability, it reached many throughout the community and, in 2020, was turned over to local business owner and chef Tiffany Williams. 


Created by Rebecca Gutwein, Familyhood Ministries operated independently in the Woodlawn Community, supporting families with parenting support classes and resources. Led by staff member Sasha Simmons, in 2018, it came under the Sunshine umbrella, bringing targeted support for parents that Sunshine had been hoping to provide for many years.


Externally, the Woodlawn community is often defined by violence. Being a part of the Woodlawn community for 20 years, staff at Sunshine see the beauty and struggle intimately and long for a place where trauma is healed and human flourishing can be achieved. Flourishing Community Initiative was launched as a focused initiative providing individual support, community collaboration, and advocacy for victims of gun violence.


Sunshine hires Kimberly Salley as Executive Director, and Joel Hamernick moves to the role of President-


In Fall of 2021, Sunshine launched a new program to address these disparities within our Woodlawn community. The Housing Equity Initiative focuses on 3 areas of emphasis- retention, ownership, and revitalization aimed at supporting our neighbors in building assets for their families and investment in their community.