I support children and adults with special needs

Oct 22, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Growing up in a big family taught Jenny to value the support and love of her parents. As an adult, she’s embraced the foster care system and adults with disabilities.

Jenny Brown and family

Find out how her sibling with Down syndrome has inspired her to give back to the community.

Jenny Brown is the sixth of 14 children. Her upbringing, faith and love for her siblings have inspired her to lead a life of service. Discover how faith and family guide this dynamic mom in a quest to help children and adults with special needs.

“No one felt like an outsider”

Jenny is the youngest of six biological children, with eight younger adopted siblings. “Besides that, my mom was a respite caregiver for people with special needs,” she says, “so as you can probably imagine, our house was always full of all different kinds of people. I definitely did not grow up in the typical family. In my family, different was normal, so no one felt like an outsider.” Faith played a big part in Jenny’s upbringing. “One of the things that my mom said to us most often was that her only requirements for us as adults were to love God and to love each other. I learned that every life is valuable to God and every child deserves to have a loving family,” she says.

See adoption photos: The moment I became a mom >>

“What my sister brought to us is invaluable”

Becca with Jenny's kids

“Growing up with a sister with Down syndrome was definitely the biggest thing that has impacted my life and who I am today,” says Jenny. Her mother encouraged her to approach her problems with perspective. “I can remember many times, after my complaining about my life being hard, my mom would simply point out the overwhelming mountains that my sister faced every single day of her life, and it would bring me back to reality pretty quickly.” Jenny says that everyone in her family has learned from her sister, Becca. “Our family is full of strong type A personalities, and what my sister brought to us is invaluable. It was because each of us were able to see her absolute goodness and vulnerability and joy despite her disability — and it changed each and every one of us.”

“I had the greatest time of my life”

“My calling to the special needs population began with a very specific incident that I can remember as if it were yesterday,” says Jenny. When Jenny was in high school, her mother asked her to take Becca to church instead of going to church with her boyfriend. “I was mad as a hornet, but all of us kids know that we had better do what she says, or else. You didn't say no to our mom. So, begrudgingly, I took my sister to her church group, and once I was there and hanging out with her friends, I had the greatest time of my life and felt the presence of God like I have never felt before. I have been involved with the special needs population ever since.”

Learn about becoming a foster parent >>

“I had a fire in my belly that could not be quenched”

Until the birth of her first child, Jenny worked at a center-based program for children in special education. She soon found herself restless as a stay-at-home mom. “It was literally like I had a fire in my belly that could not be quenched and I knew that I was called to the special needs population, and my mom and I started brainstorming and that is where Dutton Farm was born. Dutton Farm is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to assist individuals with a mental, emotional or physical impairment in a loving environment that provides genuine relationships, meaningful work and greater independence.” Jenny takes on many roles at Dutton Farm. She and her husband have three children and are currently in the process of adopting their foster son.

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