Joel Dillon on Serving Families Raising Children With Disabilities

Image: Jill’s House

Ed Stetzer: Today I am glad to welcome Joel Dillon to The Exchange. Joel serves as President/CEO of Jill’s House, a Christian non-profit organization that provides families raising kids with intellectual disabilities, ages 6-17, with short-term overnight respite care in the D.C. metro area and around the country.

Ed: What is Jill’s House?

Joel: Jill’s House is a Christian non-profit that loves and serves families raising children with intellectual disabilities. We do this through short-term, overnight respite care as well as holistic family support services.

Several times throughout the year, parents send their children with disabilities to our “respite resort” outside of Washington D.C. or to one of our camp locations around the country for 24-48 hour stays. The kids get an amazing experience in a safe, fun, loving, and celebratory environment.

Meanwhile, their parents get a break. They get to sleep through the night. They get to go on a date. They get to give undivided attention to their other children. Most families (mine included) take these things for granted, but for Jill’s House families, these are rare and precious gifts—they’re a lifeline.

We seek to love the whole family (mom, dad, kids with disabilities, and siblings). We do this in simple ways (gathering for a meal, book clubs, Bible studies, etc.) and in more “formal” ways (retreats for the whole family, retreats for single moms, retreats for dads, support groups, workshops for typical siblings, etc.).

At Jill’s House, all families are welcome. We serve Mormons and Muslims, Jews and Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, black and white people, rich and poor people, straight people and gay people. As long as someone’s child has an intellectual disability and can safely stay at Jill’s House, they will be unconditionally welcomed, loved, and served.

Ed: Why does a ministry like this matter?

Joel: There’s a lot to say here, but I’ll limit it to three points:

First, rest isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. Indeed, God designed us to rest and commands us to rest. Rest is also—unsurprisingly—what these families say is most needed for their own health, and yet, it is almost impossible to find. We hear frequently from our parents that the first time they send their child to Jill’s House is the first time they’ve ever been away from their child with a disability. Jill’s House is often the only place they can/will turn to for the rest they need.

Second, the Body of Christ isn’t complete without people with disabilities and their families, yet the vast majority of these families are—through no fault of their own—outside the church. Being a part of a congregation is simply too difficult for most of them and far too frequently, they have been implicitly (and in some very sad cases, explicitly) told they aren’t welcome in church. I often say that families raising children with intellectual disabilities are an unreached people group.

Finally, Jill’s House—of course—is not a church, but we partner with local churches and point our families back to them. We are also one of the few groups of Christians who are proactively reaching out to these families and saying, “We want you. We want your family—exactly as it is—to be a part of our community.”

Our Jill’s House families often tell us that they are isolated and lonely, so we also seek to be a place where they can find relationships and community. One of our Jill’s House dads says it really well. He says that almost everywhere they go as a family, they have to figure out how to change themselves to fit the situation.

But Jill’s House is the one place that is tailor-made for them. He says they feel normal here. We hear similar sentiments from our families frequently: at Jill’s House, they are embraced because of who they are not in spite ofwho they are—and that makes a world of difference.

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Source: Christianity Today