Q & A With Kate Houck from David’s Refuge

Executive director talks about the mission of David’s Refuge, a nonprofit that helps parents of children with special needs or chronic diseases


Kate Houck is the executive director of David’s Refuge, which has been offering a respite for parents of children with special needs or chronic diseases since 2011. What started out as a small program run out of a couple’s home in Manlius has grown over the years, and with its own office space now, it serves hundreds of families a year. Houck has been running the nonprofit since 2014.

Q: What is David’s Refuge?

A: Our organization supports parents who have children with special needs or a child with a life-threatening illness. What we’ve turned into is a network of moms and dads or guardians who are all on the same journey of being caregivers and mommies and daddies to their children.

Q: How and when did it come about?

A: David’s Refuge was started by Warren and Brenda Pfohl. Their middle son was David, who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Batten Disease, at age 8. They became primary caregivers to David. He ended up passing away just before his 21st birthday. They took time to grieve. A year later, they decided to open David’s Refuge in their home in Manlius. They wanted to provide a respite service, an overnight, bed and breakfast, extravagant beautiful place for parents. This was back in 2011. They started welcoming these caregivers into their home, where they would give them two nights — no expense. They would give them a beautiful breakfast every morning. They would send them out to dinner both nights, and they would provide this extraordinary love. Their whole goal was to remind caregivers that they are not alone. They wanted parents to know how deeply caring for their children with special needs mattered, this was such an important role that they were playing in keeping their child safe and keeping their family strong.

Q: How did it grow from there?

It got so big so fast, they started utilizing existing bed and breakfast locations and they no longer were serving couples in their home. It’s still the model that we carry out. We serve parents, caregivers, in existing bed and breakfast places, scattered across New York state, and we still offer two nights all expenses paid. We also have a mentor couple that go along on the weekend and provide that caring, that remembrance that they’re not alone.

Q: What services does the Refuge offer?

A: Our mission statement says that we provide respite, resources and support to caregivers. They’re eligible for that service once per year. Additionally, we provide year-round programs and events. The events are mostly tailored to creating a fun experience that inspires community within the families we serve. Isolation is a huge problem for families who have children with special needs. Our programs are set up to create a resource for caregivers and their kids so that they are open to learning about self-care because self-care is at the core of what we do. We want caregivers to remember the importance of caring for themselves. We also do support. We have an extensive, closed Facebook page that’s just for caregivers with over 800 members, and that’s a great community for our caregivers to post questions, ask about resources and just share. All of the services we offer are free of charge for the family.

Q: What is your budget?

A: This upcoming year, we look to raise between $650,000 and $700,000.

Q: How are you funded?

A: We’re funded through a variety of ways, none of them being state funding. We work with individuals who are committed to our mission and give annually to David’s Refuge as an investment. We also do have an avenue where we accept donations in the form of legacy gifts. We work with many local foundations, who year after year help us with specific programs to support some of our initiatives. And then businesses. So many local businesses and even businesses from afar see the work we’re doing and invest annually through events or just give because they want to see our mission grow.

Q: How many families have been served by David’s Refuge since it opened?

A: I don’t have the exact number. You could easily say thousands. Every year we’ve grown and this year, specifically, we have seen such a growth with the virtual aspect of our offerings. We’re having families who haven’t ever gone away overnight but they are calling into our monthly webinars. We want to make sure that families feel welcomed at whatever part of the journey they’re on.

Q: How big is your staff – employees and volunteers?

A: We have a small staff – four part-time employees and two full time. Our key volunteer group would be comprised of about 20 people, between our board of directors and our really active committee members.

Q: How has the pandemic affected your services?

A: The pandemic has obviously forced us to make changes to the services. We’ve had to be really careful about gathering people into groups. Two successful programs were launched during COVID. We sent 800 care packages that included all sorts of items that would help our caregivers know that we were still very much here. We’ve had to change our respite weekend program slightly. We had to take a couple months off in the thick of COVID. It’s making us a more well-rounded organization in the way we can come alongside families regardless of where they are, if they can come to us or not.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: What I found so rewarding about David’s Refuge is twofold. When I get to tell a caregiver what we do, what our mission is, and their face changes, their body relaxes, they get excited because so many caregivers feel forgotten. On the other side, it’s the same connection when a local business leader or local company or local individual says we believe so much in what you’re doing that, we want to become part of it. It’s connecting people who want to do good and want to move this mission forward.

For more information, visit www.davidsrefuge.org.