Families raising children with special needs are an overlooked, underserved population. Just in the National Capital Area alone, there are 40,000 children with special needs. The complexity of raising a child who requires 24/7 care often debilitates a family, giving them little to no freedom to run errands, go to work, go to church, see family and friends, spend time on their marriage, spend time with their typical children–the list goes on and on. This is just the logistics of raising a child with special needs.
The Social Aspect.
-How many times are these families ignored in public or scorned because they can’t control their child?
-How many times are these families judged because their child is too loud or makes “weird noises” or can’t control his or her body?
-How often do you go grocery shopping and see a family with a child with special needs – shopping just like everyone else?
You don’t. Why? Because society ignores these families, shuns them, judges them, and sometimes, unfortunately, acts as if they aren’t even there. Often times, members of society don’t know what to do when they see a family with a child with special needs. People are uncomfortable and aren’t sure what to do, so they end up doing nothing. Or worse, they stare or even look away.
What happens to the families raising these special kids? They become isolated. Families don’t feel welcomed, accepted or allowed to exist the way the rest of society does. These children and their parents didn’t ask to have special needs. It just happens. Often times there is no cure, no way out, no way to say “someday my child will be OK.”
What’s the solution? Engagement. Jill’s House and God’s church embracing these families raising children with special needs.
Jill’s House needs God’s church to help achieve their goal to change the face of disability ministry in America so that each family raising a child with special needs has respite within reach and access to a church that embraces them. God’s Church should be the leader in embracing these families. God’s Church should be first to acknowledge special families and extend a helping hand. God’s Church should welcome these hurting, broken families with open arms. Give them a place where they belong.
Who to engage?
Jill’s House began when the senior pastor at McLean Bible Church and his wife had a child with special needs. They understood firsthand how raising a child with special needs strains a family, marriage and even existence. By the grace of God, Jill’s House started serving special families in October 2010. Since opening, more than 600 families have benefited from over 500,000 hours of respite care. Considering, on average, there are four members per family, Jill’s House has directly served 2,000 people not including extended family and other beneficiaries such as schools and parent workplaces.
Nearly 90% of the families Jill’s House serves are unchurched. These families come from different religious backgrounds (Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Agnostic, Hindu, Atheist), faiths and religious understandings. When families first learn about Jill’s House, they discover it to be a safe place that adjusts to them. They are welcomed, loved and accepted right where they are. Why? Because we love these families as Christ loves them. No strings attached. No unnecessary expectations. We are God’s hands and feet. By loving these families, we introduce them to the gospel of Christ and invite them to have a redemptive relationship with Him.
God’s Church is defined in the Biblical sense as all believers who believe Christ is God’s son and have accepted Him as their personal savior; therefore, God’s Church should lock arms in partnership to serve these families.
God calls His Church to serve the least of these. God’s Church has a responsibility. God’s Church is commanded to do this. God’s Church can lead a complete societal change in how the world responds and interacts with these families.
How to engage God’s church?
Churches have community outreach budgets, plan mission trips to serve, have available facilities during the week, have connections with counselors, benevolent funds, youth groups who attend public and private schools – all the resources available to embrace families raising children with special needs.
Jill’s House facilitates partnerships by reaching out to these churches to share the Jill’s House story and invite them to embrace these families. How? Start organically.
a. Donate to JH to help augment the cost to serve their neighbors and congregants by donating to JH through their community outreach budgets.
b. Serve as Jill’s House Weekend Adventures mission teams
c. Embrace these families. Start a day respite program to give parents 2-3 hours on a Friday evening or Saturday. Acknowledge and engage these families in public. Smile at their children and say hello.