Just shy of its 4th birthday, a Vienna facility for children with intellectual disabilities has won a national award given to agencies that make meaningful impacts on their communities.
Jill’s House, on Leesburg Pike just west of Tysons, is a 42,000-square-foot playhouse, exercise facility and lodge that provides developmentally challenged children a facility where they can exercise, learn and play and allows for up to 45 children to stay overnight and on weekends under professional supervision.
The facility was one of six finalists that recently won a $10,000 award from the Guaranteed Rate mortgage company’s “Ultimate Neighborhood Give Back Challenge,” a nationwide search for organizations that make significant contributions to their communities. Jill’s House was chosen out of a field of 320 national entries.
“All of the finalists are incredibly worthy projects doing great things for their hometowns,” said Victor Ciardelli, president and CEO of Guaranteed Rate.
The idea for Jill’s House originally came from a program offered at McLean Bible Church, Access Ministries, which provides care for children with intellectual disabilities ages 6 to 17. The center is named for Senior Pastor Lon Solomon’s daughter Jill, 18, who during infancy suffered from Grand Mal seizures that resulted in disability.
According to Jill’s House, parents of children with special needs are often overwhelmed by the demands of constant care and badly need a break. Having a disabled child in the family can cause other children to feel neglected, as well as create both marital and economic stress for parents. Most cannot rely on baby sitters or relatives to care for their children, due to the high level of expertise required to do so and are often left feeling helpless and frustrated.
At Jill’s house, staff members are trained in CPR and first aid, and a registered nurse is on duty at all times, with a physician always on call. The center includes an indoor pool, gym, playground, light and sound sensory rooms and more.
“At Jill’s House, these children are free to be themselves and are accepted,” said Denise Daffron, vice president of advancement for Jill’s House. “They don’t have to adjust to us, we adjust to them.”
Since opening its doors in October 2010, Jill’s House has provided 371,055 hours of respite for parents with special-needs children. Out of the approximately 500 families Jill’s House serves, more than 40 of them are military families raising children with intellectual disabilities. Many others are federal government workers with taxing schedules.
Shannon McNeil and her husband — who works for the U.S. Department of State — have two children with Sanfilippo Syndrome, a rare degenerative genetic disorder that severely inhibits and even reverses intellectual development, and also can cause serious physical issues that can potentially shorten a child’s lifespan.
McNeil said she began taking her daughter Waverly to Jill’s House about two years ago when she was 8 years old, and began taking her son Oliver last year when he turned 6. Jill’s House accepts all children with intellectual disabilities ages 6 to 17.
“Jill’s House is so well-conceived and designed,” she said. “It is like a Great Wolf lodge for children with intellectual disabilities and it provides me and my husband with such a much-needed break. I would say it is at the top of the list for reasons that keep us here in Fairfax.”
Daffron says she often hears the same thing from other parents and says others have told her that they moved to Fairfax County specifically to be near the facility.
“You do not have to be affiliated with McLean Bible Church to qualify for our facility,” she said. “Ninety percent of our families are not affiliated with any church and we currently have hundreds of additional families on a wait list. We are looking at how we can continue to serve our current families and still be able to help more.”