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What Can I Do? Jill’s House and the Value of Respite

June 20, 2024


Jill’s House is a Christian nonprofit organization that loves and serves families raising children, adolescents, and young adults (ages 6-22) with profound intellectual disabilities through short-term, overnight respite care and holistic family support services. Any time of the year, parents can send their children with disabilities to their “respite resort” in Vienna, VA, or to one of their camp locations around the country for 24-48 hour stays. The kids get an amazing experience in a safe, fun, loving, and celebratory environment.

The truly amazing thing about Jill’s House is how it began.  A small handful of people in a church in Virginia saw their pastor and his wife struggling to care for their daughter who was born with a disability and desperate for some relief. Read on and learn about how the generosity of a few has multiplied into a very special ministry.

Many thanks to Joel Dillon, Jill’s House President and CEO, and one of Jill’s House’s appreciative parents, Maura, for agreeing to this interview. 

The “What Can I Do?” article series features various ministries and their origins as inspiration for others who are looking for ways to help. 

Mark: Joel and Maura, thanks so much for spending some time with us. I got to visit Jill’s House last year, and it is an incredible ministry. I’m looking forward to introducing it to our Word on Fire community. 

Joel, please tell us about yourself. You spent some time living and working with people with disabilities in Germany. What drew you there and to a vocation of working with individuals with intellectual disabilities? What is it that keeps you in this ministry?  

Joel: The social service bug bit me while I was in college. I wanted to be with people who were on the margins. Right after graduation, I started working with teenage boys at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a Catholic charity serving Chicago kids affected by abuse, violence, poverty, drugs, alcohol, etc. I loved every minute of that job. During that time, I visited a friend who was serving people with disabilities in the Washington, DC, area. I felt a tug toward that type of work.

I had studied German literature in college and spent almost eight months there during my studies. I wanted to spend an extended period of time in Germany, and I reached out to a disability organization there that allowed me to come and serve alongside them for a few years. That’s how I got started.

What keeps me in this ministry? First and foremost, it’s fun. Many people think you have to be some kind of moral hero to serve people with disabilities. Spoiler alert: you don’t! What most people don’t realize is how much fun it is to be around people with disabilities. They aren’t a burden to be cast off or an obstacle to be overcome. They are people to have friendships with just like anyone else. I feel sorry for people who haven’t gotten to spend time with people with disabilities.

Of course, there’s plenty of tough stuff too, but that is far outweighed by the joy of friendship.

There were plenty of twists and turns along the way, but that’s how I started walking this path.

Jill’s House has an interesting history. Tell us about the origin of Jill’s House and its growth into what it has become today.

Joel: So, the origin of Jill’s House begins with Brenda and Lon Solomon, and their daughter, Jill. That said, Lon and Brenda would be the first people to tell you that Jill’s House wasn’t their idea—it was God’s idea.

You could throw a dart at a map of the United States and hit a community that is in need of the services we offer and doesn’t have them.

Lon became a pastor at McLean Bible Church in the early ’80s. It was a small church back then. He and his wife Brenda had three boys, and in the early ’90s, they were blessed with a daughter, Jill.

Jill was born with a rare genetic disorder that led to profound disabilities. Life grew extremely hard for their entire family. At a point of utter exhaustion, Brenda prayed that God would use Jill in a mighty way, and God answered that prayer.

Some folks from the congregation offered to start caring for Jill, so Lon and Brenda could get a break. Their experience of respite changed their lives. Lon says it well. He says that after they started getting respite, “Laughter came back into our home.” And then they started thinking, “Well, what could we do for other families who are experiencing these same things?”

That’s when the concept of Jill’s House was born. They wanted to provide kids with disabilities an amazing experience they wouldn’t get anywhere else. And they wanted to give parents of kids with disabilities what they wanted most—rest. 

Maura, your daughter has been coming to Jill’s House for many years. What has Jill’s House meant to you and your family?

Maura: Jill’s House lives up to the true meaning of respite for our family. When Dorothy is at Jill’s House, my children get to do things they love that their beloved sister does not like. And they rest in the assurance that Dorothy is doing things she loves with people she loves at Jill’s House. With five siblings, I imagine Dorothy needs respite from our busy household! And my husband and I get to rest from our constant vigilance. We rest mentally and physically. Rested and renewed, we are excited to hear all about Dorothy’s weekend from the written notes and fun stories of the staff and volunteers. We don’t have respite other than Jill’s House and are so grateful for such an incredible ministry.

Maura, I’m assuming some families—especially parents of children with multiple medical conditions—may be hesitant to trust someone else outside their home with the responsibility for their child, especially overnight. What is your advice to those families? 

Maura: On Dorothy’s first Jill’s House weekend, I called several times, pleasantly surprised to hear she was relaxed, calm, and having a great time. I always tell prospective parents about the 24-hour nursing care, and the special equipment—for example, a similar bed to the one we have at home to protect Dorothy from falls in case she has a seizure. The attention to each detail of care and the joy with which they approach pretty much everything—including onerous Medicaid paperwork!—makes Jill’s House feel like a family. I joke when describing it to friends: it’s like a spa and summer camp for kids with special needs.

Joel, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with you at Jill’s House and touring the facility. It’s incredible in its beauty, its warm and inviting atmosphere, and how well equipped it is to care for people with a wide range of medical and behavioral characteristics. Unlike many places, there is no institutional feel to it. It must be a challenge to manage a place that provides care for people with, in some cases, complex characteristics. What are your greatest challenges, and how do you meet them? 

Joel: Our main campus just outside DC and our locations across the country are incredible and allow us to do so much. But we’ve come to realize that Jill’s House is not a building—it’s a mission. The heart of Jill’s House is, first and foremost, the families we are privileged to love and serve. It’s also the people who love and care for these kids. They don’t just accommodate them. They celebrate them for who they are—for who God has made them.

Our main challenges are what you’d expect. It costs a lot to do what we do. We have an annual budget of over $6 million, and most of our revenue comes through private donations—people who give $10, $100, $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 and beyond every year. We are blessed to have people come alongside us at each of those levels (and then some!) year-in and year-out. But it is always a grind. It never comes easy. God hasn’t given us a blank check, and unless he does, we will always work hard to earn the trust and investment of the Jill’s House community.

We feel like we’ve got a proven model of service and a track record of excellence but sustaining that and expanding to more families in more places is a heavy lift.

Are there any plans to expand? To bring rest to families in other areas proximate to you, or farther away?

Joel: You could throw a dart at a map of the United States and hit a community that is in need of the services we offer and doesn’t have them. We work with Christian camps and churches throughout the country to provide respite for families raising kids with intellectual disabilities. Our Weekend Adventures model is scalable and replicable. Currently, we’ve got five locations, and plans to add many more. We welcome conversations with others who want to see respite become a reality in their community.

How would people find out more about Jill’s House, and what would your suggestion be to those who feel called to provide respite to families? 

Joel: Check out our website at Follow us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. We need volunteers in every location. We need people to support us financially. Our hope is that we will prove ourselves worthy of greater investment of time, talent, and treasure from more and more people. I would welcome the opportunity to earn that trust and support.

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Again, many thanks to Joel and Maura. For those who are interested and would like to learn more, here are a few videos to enjoy:

  1. The origin story of Jill’s House: WATCH
  2. A story about one of the families Jill’s House serves: WATCH
  3. A video about the impact of the retreats they do with our families: WATCH
  4. A video profile of a Jill’s House volunteer: WATCH