Jill’s House: How One Girl’s Disability Is Transforming Hundreds of Lives by Cameron Doolittle

Jill’s House: How One Girl’s Disability Is Transforming Hundreds of Lives by Cameron Doolittle June 26, 2012

Gillian brushes Silky, a therapy horse at Jill's House

I have the privilege of serving as head of Jill’s House, a miraculous ministry to families of children with severe intellectual disabilities.

Jill’s House, located just outside of Washington, DC, is an overnight facility that provides long breaks to families who are weary of the burdens of caring for their special children. The vision for our ministry was borne out of the experience and heartache of Lon Solomon, lead pastor of McLean Bible Church (McLean, VA) and his family.

Lon and his wife Brenda added a daughter, Jill, to their three sons in 1992. Jill was just three months old when she experienced her first seizures. Doctors could not identify their cause. Months melted into years of uncontrolled seizures, leading to irreversible neurological damage for Jill.

How Jill’s House Came to Be

Along with the medical toll of Jill’s condition came emotional and spiritual pressures. Caring for Jill was demanding and exhausting, and added a whole other dimension to the stress of marriage and parenting for Lon and Brenda. During one of their innumerable trips to the ER, Lon realized “the laughter had been sucked out of [his] family.”

Finally, Brenda cried out to God. ”Lord, I cannot go on any longer –  I have nothing physically or emotionally left to give. You have to step in and do something,” she pleaded. “I just ask one thing. Please use Jill’s life in a mighty way, because what we are living through is too painful to waste.”

The Jill's House facility in Vienna, VA.

Within hours of praying that prayer, Brenda received a phone call from Mary, a woman she’d never met. As a result of their conversation, Mary made a plan to organize some caregivers for Jill so the Solomons could get some rest. In short, Mary gave the family respite.

Lon and Brenda credit Jesus and a rhythm of respite care for getting them through those dark days and for providing hope when there appeared to be no end to their sorrow, exhaustion, and despair. Once they were renewed and refreshed, the Solomons knew they wanted to find a way to help families like theirs. That is how the idea for Jill’s House began to take shape.

In 2003, they co-founded Jill’s House and began planning and fundraising for this state-of-the-art facility to accommodate children with special needs. In October 2010, we welcomed six children as our first overnight guests. Today, we operate at full capacity on weekends and during camps, serving more than 250 families annually.

The Children and Families Jill’s House Serves

The children we serve often have complicated needs, like requiring multiple medications on precise schedules, being prone to seizures, or behaving in ways that challenge for untrained caregivers. This makes it difficult for their parents to leave their children even for short periods of time, even when a willing and responsible adult can step in. As a result, the parents experience 60% more stress than the rest of us. Marriages dissolve, typical siblings get less attention, finances suffer as parents spend their savings to help their child, and take lower-paying jobs that give them more flexibility to care for the needs of their child. In a tragic case of “chicken and egg,” the stress that parents experience due to the child’s delays actually compounds the child’s delays since stressed caregivers become less effective.

Our incredible care team – now comprised of nearly 80 professionals – steps in with the love of Jesus and gives the parents a break, handling these complex needs gracefully, allowing parents to relax–often for the first time in years—while their son or daughter is here at Jill’s House.

Further, children with special needs can require constant supervision. One parent explained the relentless responsibility this way: “I feel like I am a lifeguard who must  always stay on duty in the lifeguard chair.”  Jill’s House provides her and hundreds of other parents with the opportunity to hop down from the lifeguard stand and take a meaningful rest.

Peter loves riding the double-seated bicycle at Jill's House.

Equally important is the impact of the ministry on the children. Jill’s House is a place where they are loved for who they are, where they can have fun, and where they can make friends. Children adore the pool, activities, sensory rooms, playground, and most of all, the staff and the 600 volunteers who serve with them. One girl who is nonverbal has found a way to communicate how she feels about her visits: she kicks happily and rocks in her wheelchair at the sight of Jill’s House. As a teenage boy plans out his monthly calendar, he always asks for “more Jill’s House.”

One of my favorite Jill’s House stories is of a little boy whose first stay transformed his everyday life. Because of anxiety and the need to be comforted, this child had slept with his dad every night for eight years. But after a night at Jill’s House, this sweet child went back to his own home and was able to sleep in his own bed by himself for the very first time. That is a dad whose life has been transformed by God’s work through Jill’s House! The children we serve are able to develop increased independence and confidence that is transferable in their lives beyond our walls.

What Sets Jill’s House Apart

Jill’s House is the only facility in the United States that provides these amazing families with a “rhythm of respite,” emphasizing long, overnight stays. We are in awe of God’s work as we see its impact on both families and the community, particularly as we dialogue with churches who are contemplating similar programs. Families are renewed. Volunteers are energized. Children find great joy and acceptance. Donors experience overwhelming satisfaction.

People often ask how they can help. First, you could bring a team from your church or community to serve with us for a weekend. You will go away changed!  Second, our safety and miraculous growth can only be attributed to God responding to prayer, so please do pray for our safety. Third, the biggest constraint we have is financial. I oversee an operating budget of $5 million and yet there are hundreds of families on our waiting list. If you have a heart to help with this work, please let us know. Finally, if your church wants to join us in providing these kinds of breaks, we are eager to see God replicate the miracle of Jill’s House elsewhere. God has been faithful to make this possible through people like you. Now, we trust Him to help Jill’s House to grow and serve more hurting, desperate families, and we invite you to be a part of this incredible story.

The prophet Samuel said, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). This godly principle is at the center of what we do at Jill’s House.

Here, we are not concerned in the least with appearances or abilities. Instead, we truly respect and cherish each child and family we are privileged to serve. People of all stations are hungry for that acceptance. God is writing an amazing story at Jill’s House and we welcome you to connect with us to see how He wants to affect your story.

Jill’s House is located at 9011 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA, in Tysons Corner and is easily accessible via I-6; I-495 and Rt. 267 (the  Dulles Toll Road). Learn more when you visit us online at jillshouse.org or call 703.639.5660.

Cameron is President & CEO of Jill’s House, a 45-bed center in Vienna, Virginia, launched by McLean Bible Church and opened in 2010.  Jill’s House provides renewal to families raising children with intellectual disabilities.  Before embracing a call to Jill’s House, Cameron served as a management consultant, launching successful businesses serving senior executives.  Cameron holds degrees from UC-Berkeley (JD/MBA) and Stanford University (BA).  He lives in intentional community in Falls Church, Virginia, with his wife and children (7, 5, 3, 2) and attends Restoration Anglican Church.

 


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