Special needs respite is one way parents of kids with special needs can recharge their caregiving batteries. In part 2 of this series about special needs respite, Cameron Dolittle, director of the respite facility Jill’s House in the Washington, DC area, is here to share his vision about how to provide respite all over our country.
Special Needs Respite: Oxygen3
After serving abroad with the military, Greg returned home to Colorado. His wife, Samantha, was grateful to have him home and to have his help raising their son with special needs. But just as Greg was beginning to settle in, he was diagnosed with cancer. Their marriage had stayed strong despite distance and war. But could it survive cancer and parenting a child with special needs? More than ever this couple wanted and needed to spend time together, but that time was a luxury they couldn’t afford. They needed God to give them that time. And He did.
Special Needs Respite Camps
God gave Greg and Samantha the time they needed by bringing Jill’s House from DC to CO. In 2012, we began looking for ways to bring overnight respite to other parts of the country. We knew that trying to replicate our building in each new location would be slow and expensive. We needed a program that was mobile and low-cost. So we created Jill’s House National Programs weekend respite camps.
This program is similar to our weekend program at Jill’s House. Parents still get two nights of respite, but their kids, instead of staying in a facility, stay in cabins at Christian camps. They enjoy camp activities—like high ropes course, archery, canoeing, campfires and s’mores—while their parents get the respite they need.
It was through our National Programs camp in Colorado that Greg and Samantha got to spend an entire weekend together without the responsibilities of caring for their son. When we asked Samantha what she did while her son was at camp she said, “Sit by my husband’s hospital bed without having to leave.” God is using these programs to give couples like Greg and Samantha the time they need to rest and connect.
Special Needs Respite Missionaries
God is also using these camps to train his people how to care for children with special needs. The weekend is supervised by a few Jill’s House staff members and a group of Oxygen3 missionaries. These missionary groups spend the entire weekend serving as a buddy to one of our campers. The missionaries bond as a team, learn about God’s heart for disability, and return to their home churches ready to apply what they’ve learned.
Through this camp program, parents get a break, kids have a great weekend at camp, and missionaries get to experience the challenges and joys of disability ministry. We’re operating these camps in Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Colorado, and Southern California and will soon be in Washington State. By 2020, we hope to be operating a Jill’s House respite camp in 20 locations. We’re working to change the face of disability ministry in America so that God’s people are known for their compassionate remembrance of those who are often forgotten and overlooked.
But to accomplish this goal, we’ll need help. These programs cannot survive without the support of a strong disability ministry. Next week, in the last post in this series, I’ll suggest a few resources that will help you start or grow the disability ministry in your church.
What Do You Think of Special Needs Respite Camps?
What’s your opinion of the Oxygen3 concept? Has your child participated in one? Would you like to start one in your area? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.
Cameron Doolittle has been President & CEO of Jill’s House since it opened in 2010. He loves that families find physical and spiritual rest through Jesus, and that Jill’s House is helping prepare a new generation of leaders to love children with special needs as God does. Before he came to Jill’s House, Cameron was the “new business launch guy” at Corporate Executive Board. He’s a graduate of Stanford University and holds a JD/MBA from UC-Berkeley. Cameron and his wife, Carolyn, live in Falls Church with their four young children.
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