Creating the Sunny Side

Creating the Sunny Side

Sunnybrook Children's Home Specializes in Love

Words by Alex Merrill
Photos by Andrew Welch

“OK, everyone. Write your name on your drawing, and we’ll hang them in the hall for everyone to see!” The Sunnybrook staff member looked down and saw one little boy, about eight or nine years old, looking around, pencil still laying next to his paper. “Cory, can you write your name for me?” she asked. He continued to look confused. Then she offered to spell it for him while he wrote it. He continued to sit still, staring at her blankly. After helping him write his name, she realized he had never learned to write at all.

The sad, overwhelming truth is that educational holes such as this often point to a much bigger problem: neglect. But that’s where Sunnybrook Children’s Home comes in.

Sunnybrook was founded in 1964 in Jackson, Mississippi, by a group of people who saw a need in their community and, through love and grace, were moved to action. Their mission was simple: to minister to children needing a loving, stable, nurturing home environment. That vision led to their core service—residential group care, which continues to be the heart of Sunnybrook today.

In short, Sunnybrook serves as an alternative for children who would otherwise enter the Mississippi foster care system.Through the residential group care program, children and youth are invited to experience a safe, loving home environment, possibly for the first time in their lives. Live-in houseparents work to meet the basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of each child in their care. Sunnybrook emphasizes spiritual enrichment opportunities for the children and provides access and transportation to youth rallies, summer camps, and community activities, prioritizing weekly devotions in the home.

Many residential group care children have not had consistent access to quality education, so Sunnybrook teachers ensure educational excellence is maintained in the home as an extension of the children’s new learning environment. Sunnybrook also provides weekly on-site tutoring for all grade levels and subjects and arranges individualized tutorial services to children with special academic needs, giving each child the chance to reach their fullest educational potential. 

Many children have suffered severe emotional trauma prior to entering a group care home. Their backgrounds are often marred by poverty, homelessness, neglect, or abuse. In Sunnybrook’s holistic approach to care, it takes each child’s need for emotional healing just as seriously as educational needs. Group and individual counseling sessions are offered on a weekly basis, allowing residents to process their past trauma along with their present circumstances, and to develop strategies and skills for moving forward with health and restoration in mind.

While Sunnybrook has been engaged in this kind of work for almost 60 years, it never stops looking for new ways to change lives and serve others. With the start of the new year, it launched a new program to address yet another need in the community that the staff felt too passionately about to not get involved. They began noticing that older children and teens would age out of the traditional foster care programs and not necessarily have opportunities readily available for the next stage of life. Many would become homeless, resort to selling drugs or petty theft just to get by, and end up in jail. These kids just needed to know that they had options and that someone would help them pursue those with unmeasured love and enthusiasm.

Sunnybrook’s new Transitional Living program aims to provide just that. Through this new service, teens and young adults can live in group housing and benefit from programs and offerings similar to those of residential group care but geared to an older audience with slightly different needs. In addition to room and board, Transitional Living residents will have access to independent living training, in which they learn to budget, gain basic employment skills, and get hands-on work experience (perhaps for the first time) through on-campus job opportunities. Sunnybrook’s life skills courses and personal development opportunities will further allow these residents to grow with stability and direction, while providing tools and resources to help them pursue the professional or education path of their choice. Right now, the first Transitional Living resident is preparing for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, pursuing his dream of joining the Army.

The Sunnybrook heart for this program is that residents will believe that their goals are achievable, their dreams are possible, and that people really do exist who want to help them win in life.

In conjunction with the Transitional Living program, Sunnybrook has launched the Team 12 fundraising initiative. It takes just $1,000 per month ($12,000 per year) to support a resident of Sunnybrook’s Transitional Living program. This amount gives an at-risk older youth hope—hope in the form of food, materials, and training to take ownership of their life and make it what they want it to be, hope of options and opportunity, hope that may have been missing in their home life for generations, and hope for breaking that cycle and rewriting the future.

To get involved and join the Team 12 initiative, visit or call (601) 856-6555.