SPECIAL FEATURE: One-of-a-kind David’s Refuge gives parent caretakers a break

By Christine Dunne

Photo by Michael Di Giglio

David’s Refuge is a one-of-a kind organization, focused on giving parent caretakers a break — typically through a weekend getaway at a local bed and breakfast.


“Parents are calling us from Texas saying, ‘When is David’s Refuge going to be in Texas, because I need this,’” said Executive Director Kate Houck, one of the organization’s six-women team.


Parents of children with special needs and/or life-threatening illnesses have the opportunity to spend a couple of nights away from the responsibilities involved with caretaking — all expenses paid. They receive gift cards for local restaurants and other attractions, and have the chance to connect with other parents on the same journey.


“They [parents] are the glue for the family; when you restore Mom and Dad, what you end up doing is restore the children in the home,” Houck said. “And stronger families equals stronger communities.”


Houck is familiar with organizations that provide respite care to moms, but nothing quite like what Manlius-based David Refuge offers. While the organization has grown immensely since its inception eight years ago, she wishes more people were familiar with its services — both to benefit from and support.


“We’re certainly in a position where we want to recruit people who want to invest in our mission, and grow awareness so people who really do need us have a spot,” she said, noting that David’s Refuge serves families in Central, Southern and Western New York.


David Refuge was founded by Warren and Brenda Pfohl in honor of their son David, who passed away from Batten Disease in 2009. They began hosting parents in their Manlius home, and the organization took off from there.


In addition to switching the respite location to bed and breakfasts (there are now 24 “partner” locations across Central, Southern, and Western New York), the organization has grown its number of families served every year. From 2018 to 2019, for example, the number of overnight respite weekends is increasing from 250 to 350.


The hope is to grow this number to 500 in the next three years, and 1,000 within five years. In addition, the organization plans to add programming outside of respite weekends — which could boost the annual number of people served to over 5,000.


“We often times feel like we are just scratching the surface, as there are literally thousands of families right here that need support,” Houck said.


Potential activities could include a picnic for families impacted by special needs or life-threatening illnesses, a mom makeover event, a dads’ barbecue and a Valentine’s Day night.


“There are more ways in which families can take a break,” she said. “We want to become a community that is nationally recognized for empowering caregivers to lead their families with strength and grace.”


The weekend retreats, as well as upcoming programs, are not just about giving parents a break one time, but empowering them to continue to take time for themselves when possible. Another goal is helping families feel less alone.


“In our society, we don’t always know how to come alongside a family that is going through a challenge.” Houck said.


The programs also respond to challenges around finances. Money can be tight for families with a sick or disabled child, particularly as one parent frequently leaves the workforce and medical bills can be high. Beyond paying for a bed and breakfast getaway, David’s Refuge can reimburse parents up to a certain amount for childcare while they are away (through support from the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation).


Members of the community can help support David’s Refuge through monetary donations, in-kind donations (e.g., services, gift cards), event sponsorships, and time. A $600 donation would cover the cost of one respite weekend (whether for one couple or a single parent); all of this money goes back to the local community.


People can buy tickets and attend the organization’s two large social events as well as sponsor them. And businesses can organize service projects to benefit David’s Refuge, whether it is making gift baskets for couples, writing handwritten notes for National Caregiver Month, or another heartwarming effort.


“There are some really beautiful ways people can come alongside us,” Houck said.

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