After seeing their daughter Jill undergo frequent grand-mal seizures and feeling the impact of her condition on their family, Lon and Brenda Solomon in 2010 founded Jill’s House to provide short-term, overnight respite care for children with intellectual disabilities and their families.
“It is remarkable what a little bit of rest and a whole lot of love can do to strengthen our families,” said John Brownlee, board chairman of Jill’s House.
Gov. Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin on May 26 honored Jill’s House with the second “Spirit of Virginia Award” the couple have bestowed since the governor took office earlier this year.
The couple came up with the idea for the award after engaging with Virginia residents on the campaign trail in 2021.
“We were so taken by all the goodness,” Suzanne Youngkin said. “That is the essence of this award . . . We decided if Glenn was elected that we wanted to shine a light on people or institutions doing uncommon good, people really making contributions above and beyond the norm.”
The Youngkins two months earlier gave the inaugural Spirit of Virginia Award to the Center for Healthy Veterans, a retreat located near Lynchburg. The couple will bestow six such awards this year then and invite the recipients to Richmond for a Christmas gathering.
The couple have been fans of Jill’s House for many years and are “in awe of how God has used Jill to really permeate Fairfax County with this beautiful, beautiful ray of sunshine,” Suzanne Youngkin said.
About 6.5 million Americans suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities, including approximately 18,000 in Fairfax County, she said.
Since it opened, Jill’s House has served more than 1,000 families, not including people who have gone on retreats, and provided in excess of 1 million hours of respite care, she said. An average of 41 children use the facility each week, the first lady added.
“It’s amazing, all these things they have for these kids,” marveled Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert, who was among local, state and federal officials who attended the ceremony.
Jill Solomon, who recently turned 30, attended the ceremony and received sustained applause from those in attendance.
Her seizures began at just 3 months old and she probably has had 10,000 of them, said her father, the former senior pastor at nearby McLean Bible Church.
His daughter’s ongoing seizures brought “chaos” to the family, said Lon Solomon, who likened the situation to the “bottom of a black hole.”
Solomon said he believes in a personal God who helps people find beauty in the ashes of their existence. The family’s ordeal made him into a better father, husband, pastor and human being, he said.
Jill Solomon’s life has been like “that little pebble that you drop in water and the circles just keep going on and on,” Suzanne Youngkin said.
Jill’s House is symbolic of unconditional love and togetherness and epitomizes the Spirit of Virginia, Gov. Youngkin said.
“The idea of respite is one that I think most people don’t think about,” he said.
Before the ceremony, the Youngkins toured Jill’s House and met some of the young people staying there, as well as their families.
Erica Schutz, whose son Alex has come to Jill’s House for five years, told the audience the facility had been “truly life-changing for us.” She and her husband, Mike, have enjoyed the institution’s “marriage retreats.”
“There is nothing like going into a room with other couples who are both as exhausted as we are after 14 years of very little sleep,” she said. “It’s been a safe space for us to really share the joys that we have as a family, more joy than I ever knew was possible.”
The facility, located at 9011 Leesburg Pike, aims to give children an unforgettable night that they can’t get anywhere else, Brownlee said.
“We always promise there’s no homework here, it’s just about fun,” he said.
“We are convinced that God loves these families more abundantly than we could possibly imagine and that He has given us the privilege and joy of reflecting that love in word and deed,” said Joel Dillon, president and CEO of Jill’s House.