The Farrell Family

Told by Sean and Jenee Farrell

For Sam, Jill’s House Rocky Top Camp in Nashville is the happiest place on the planet! It’s his most favorite place to be.

Sam has been attending Jill’s House Weekend Adventures Camp since he was 12 years old. We started exploring different day camps and programs for Sam long before we sent him to Jill’s House. We wanted him to experience the youth church programs that meant a lot to us during our own childhood. However, we went through some frustrating experiences when Sam was turned away from other programs that couldn’t accommodate him. It was heartbreaking!

When we first heard about Jill’s House, we had obvious concerns. But when we met with the Local Program Manager, we were very impressed by the depth of her questions and her interest in Sam and his motivations. We were relieved to hear that Sam would be welcomed, cared for, and kept happy.

Sam is very social and loves to be active. He has a huge heart and a great sense of humor. He loves water slides, roller coasters, music, and dancing. He enjoys helping in the kitchen and likes knowing that he’s done something well. Although we were sure that camp would be a great experience for him, we were still cautiously optimistic.

When the first weekend arrived, we anxiously waited for the phone call asking us to pick him up—the call to tell us that they could no longer accommodate Sam. This is what we had been used to. But the call never came! Then, when we picked Sam up at the end of the weekend, he was radiating happiness. Pictures of him from that weekend—and those of many others he’s attended since then—show him with the biggest smile and a constant look of pure joy. We finally found what we had been looking for!

Sam excels in an environment that is set up specifically for him. Inclusivity is good too, for many reasons. But Sam thrives better in an environment that is designed just for him, and Jill’s House offers that experience. Everything that Jill’s House offers has been designed with him and other kids like him in mind.

Once we realized that Sam was going to be comfortable and accepted at Jill’s House, we felt immense gratitude, as if we had all been given the most tremendous gift.

Having a child with special needs can be difficult. We know Sam’s younger brother also feels that. But we also see how our family has grown in being compassionate and understanding of one another, and other families too. While Sam is at Jill’s House, we have been able to use the opportunity to connect in our marriage and take our younger son to activities that don’t interest Sam.

Sam is now 17 years old and will graduate from high school this spring. During the fall, he will move into vocational training, where he will continue to develop skills for employment. He enjoys helping in the school cafeteria and also works in the school store. Sam has a big heart and even bigger enthusiasm. He’s a popular guy wherever he goes!

When Sam comes home from camp, he will go through the whole list of foods he ate and the activities he did. And he would always ask to return! We have so many emotions as we consider this next chapter in Sam’s life. We are excited, yet we also feel sad that his time at Jill’s House is coming to an end. We will always be grateful for Jill’s House and the incredibly passionate staff at Jill’s House and Camp Rocky Top!