History of Home of the Sparrow

Where Home of the Sparrow’s journey began…


McHenry County began to recognize that homelessness was a reality in the community in 1984. St. Thomas Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake and Calvary Assembly of God Church sent out a survey to every church in the County asking if increasing numbers of homeless were coming to their doors for help, in an effort to discover whether this was a local problem in the parish of St. Thomas or if it was, as feared, a new trend that needed to be addressed immediately before the numbers grew. At that time there were only about fifteen individuals/families in dire need. We wish that was the case today. The Survey reinforced the concern that indeed, homelessness was not just in Cook County but suffered by our neighbors and our own family members.


Calvary Assembly of God Church hosted a breakfast meeting where Joy Martin, the Mission Outreach Chair of Ridgefield Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church broke bread and educated the attendees of the growing needs of McHenry County. Although attendees listened and believed the problem was existent, but not one person felt capable of taking any action to solve it. It was obvious that the “not next door to me” philosophy was going to be a hurdle to overcome. As the year went on, more and more people started acknowledging that this problem wasn’t going to solve itself. And so it was when another pancake breakfast was given in 1985 with 24 people in attendance, Joy Martin and six other community members from different churches stepped forward to do something about this growing need.

As the committee began searching for funds and housing for a temporary shelter, the committee ran into walls of objection in every direction they turned. Donations were being made to enable the committee/First Board of Directors to house some people in local motels, but a shelter seemed an impossible dream.


It was when Reverend Phyllis Mueller, a Seminary Student sponsored by Faith Presbyterian Church, saw an article in the Northwest Herald titled “Shelter Dream Dies” and immediately contacted the Board. They met with her and she stated her interest and her actions while in Seminary that took her into the inner city without a penny in her pocket to see if the homeless living on the street wanted to live that way. What she found was that they never dreamed they would find themselves “on the street” and didn’t know how to overcome the crisis of homelessness. Rev. Mueller said that, as she saw it, we needed two things – homeless people—which we had—and a building to rent where we could move in residents; and then work with the county to help them out of this crisis.

We were able to rent a building just outside of the City of McHenry limits that seemed to be perfect for our needs. The building on Lincoln Avenue is still there today and has been a small church, a community center, a private home and a bar. It seemed to the Board that those walls had seen the highs and lows in the lives of many people and that they would help us overcome this adversity. We opened the doors to our first shelter on December 15, 1986 thinking we would keep the family unit intact as they moved through this difficulty. However, what we found was that in the vast number of cases, the men had left the picture. We started to serve the women and children “left behind so to speak” and are still doing that 30 years later.


In February of 1987, Home of the Sparrow, Inc. became a private, non-profit organization. Since then, Home of the Sparrow has remained dynamic in assessing and responding to the needs of homeless women and children in our community.

Current programs and services

A Transitional Shelter program that provides a safe living environment, as well as supportive services. The shelter can house up to 42 individuals per night.

A Subsidized Apartment Program that has the capacity to serve three families for up to a year while they build resources for independent living.

An Affordable Housing Program that offers 25 subsidized apartment units located across Northern Illinois for low income families.

A Rapid Rehousing Program that expects to help 12 families into permanent housing within the community.

Home of the Sparrow’s Timeline

1985 – A task force is formed to address the increasing numbers of homeless women and children in McHenry County

1986 – The McHenry County Interfaith Shelter, later renamed Home of the Sparrow, applies for 501(c)3 status and opens its first rented shelter in McHenry, IL

1987 – 501(c)3 status is granted. Sixteen women and children are sheltered

1991 – Current McHenry Shelter site is purchased

1992 – The agency opens its first “Sparrow’s Nest” Thrift Store in McHenry, IL

1992 – Home of the Sparrow helps to open the Lake County Haven Shelter

1993 – Waukegan Road Apartments site is purchased

1994 – Opened Boy’s Shelter in Woodstock (Closed 1996)

1995 – Helped create and open Pennsylvania Home of the Sparrow (Which is NOT affiliated with us)

1997 – Opened Palatine Shelter

1997 – Crystal Lake Shelter site is purchased

1997 – McHenry Shelter is expanded to include 4 additional shelter units

1997 – Winner of Governors Home Town Award for volunteerism

1998 – Opened Cary Sparrow’s Nest

1998 – Opened Arlington Heights Sparrow’s Nest

1998 – Winner of Governors Home Town Award for volunteerism

1999 – Choate Ascent Center further expands McHenry Shelter with a 10-year program

2000 – Arlington Heights Sparrow’s Nest moves to Palatine

2007 – Palatine Shelter transferred to WINGS for program efficiency

2008 – Woodstock Sparrow’s Nest opens

2008 – Initial discussions occur related to the potential acquisition of agency-owned housing units

2012 – Home of the Sparrow acquires 13 units of housing from McHenry County and the Housing Opportunity Development Corp.

2012 – Algonquin Sparrow’s Nest opens

2013 – Awarded funding through the HUD-HOME program, ultimately acquiring 6 additional affordable housing units

2014 – The Outreach and Prevention Program is started

2014 – Mundelein Sparrow’s Nest opens

2015 – McHenry Shelter expansion for 5 additional units

2016 – Added 19th and 20th Affordable Housing unit

2016 – Education and Employment Program is piloted

2016 – Moved Headquarters Office to new location

2016 – Mundelein Sparrow’s Nest expansion

2016 – Cary Sparrow’s Nest furniture showroom renovation

2016 – Sold Crystal Lake Shelter

2016 – Awarded “Nonprofit of the Year” by Shaw Media

2016 – Expanded McHenry Shelter parking lot

2017 – Added 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th Affordable Housing units

2017 –  – Third Lake Sparrow’s Nest opens

2017 – Welcomed Community Threads Thrift Store to our resale family

2018 – Added our 26th  Affordable Housing Unit

2019 – Community Threads officially merged into Home of the Sparrow

2019 – Launched Sparrow’s Nest eBay Online Thrift Store & new Five Star Loyalty Program at all thrift stores

2019 – Sparrow’s Nest Thrift Store in McHenry voted One of the Best ReSale Shops in McHenry County by the NW Herald/Shaw Media

2020 – Launched Employment Program

2020 – Sparrow’s Nest Thrift Store – Algonquin Location permanently closed in October

2021 – Hosted first-ever virtual fundraising event, the Virtual Sip & Savor Hope Benefit in April 2021

2022 – 35th year anniversary & added 2 supportive housing units