Home of Guiding Hands receives $100,000 to support respite care for children with disabilities

Charlene Walker reads a book to Grayson Magnuson
Charlene Walker, a donor to Home of Guiding Hands, reads a book to Grayson Magnuson, 4, on Friday, April 11.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The funding will support a rare opportunity for parents of children age 3 and under


Cynthia Magnuson says a typical day in her household is “utter chaos.” She and her husband, Bob, are lucky if they get more than five hours of sleep at night, and “self-care” often consists of uninterrupted time washing the family’s laundry or completing grocery shopping.

Her three young sons — Wesley, 8; Grayson, 4; and William, 3 — keep her very busy. Her youngest boys — whom she refers to as “the littles” — are both living with autism spectrum disorder, while her oldest son has been diagnosed with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a mood disorder.

“When you’re in these types of circumstances, sometimes it’s so difficult to just do laundry, or just clean something, because it’s a 24/7 job,” Cynthia said. “If I turn my back for two seconds, something bad can happen.”

After Grayson and William were diagnosed, Cynthia had to leave a career as a lead business consultant at Kaiser Permanente, where she loved working, so she could care for them.

Bringing them to and from school and keeping them safe from harming themselves, each other and the house remains a full-time job, but it’s now a little easier due to the respite care her family receives from Home of Guiding Hands. The 15 hours of care her family receives each month help Cynthia take care of her own health needs, and allow her and her husband to spend alone time together or with their older son.

“Before respite, it was very difficult for me to take care of myself, to get in to see a doctor for my own healthcare, to visit my dentist,” Cynthia said. “Now that I have respite, it gives me the option of scheduling those things out and scheduling the self-care that I need to do.”

Thanks to a $100,000 donation from Encinitas residents Dave and Charlene Walker, more families like the Magnusons will be able to receive free respite care from Home of Guiding Hands, a nonprofit with offices in El Cajon and El Centro.

Dave Walker sits with Grayson Magnuson, 4, while brother William, 3, is swung by their father Bob Magnuson
Dave Walker, a donor to Home of Guiding Hands, sits with Grayson Magnuson, 4, while brother William, 3, is swung by their father Bob Magnuson on Friday, April 9, 2021 in El Cajon, CA.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The money will be used to provide 2,780 hours of free respite care to parents of children 3 and under living with intellectual disabilities, developmental delays or medical fragility.

President and CEO Mark Klaus was shocked when he found out about the Walkers’ donation, and said the new program is a rarity with other similar respite care programs only providing care for children age 3 through adulthood.

The funding, he said, will further support families who are caring for someone with a health diagnosis, especially in a time when so many people have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know families are struggling, and this goes a long way in helping those families,” he said. “Having young children is difficult all the time, but with a lot of our families especially, this is a new experience. Having a child is exciting, and when families get the news that their child may have some additional needs, it’s devastating at the same time.”

The Walkers have volunteered with organizations supporting people living with disabilities throughout their adult lives, both separately and apart. In fact, Charlene — a transplant from Connecticut — and San Diego native Dave met while volunteering at the The Arc of San Diego’s Harvest Ball years ago.

Having the additional help from a professional caregiver trained to tend to the needs of a child living with a disability can give peace of mind to parents, who otherwise might not be comfortable with an untrained relative or person babysitting.

As a mother of three herself, Charlene recalls the stress of caring for her children — who are not neurologically atypical — while her husband was away on business trips.

“With the first baby, you really don’t know what you’re doing, and everything was new and stressful,” she said. “Sometimes it was overwhelming trying to do it all yourself and trying to care for all three of them, and it’s exhausting.”

But professional caregivers for those with functional needs related to a disability can be too pricey for many families, so often they don’t have access to respite care.

Dave said family caregivers are often so busy focusing their energy caring for loved ones that their self-care comes second. He hopes the respite care their donation will cover allows parents and other family caregivers of young children to recharge and, in turn, allow them to more effectively navigate care for their children.

“If the caregivers can be strong, if the caregivers can get rest and have a break, they’ll be that much better for the ones they’re taking care of,” Dave said.

For more information about Home of Guiding Hands, visit or call (619) 938-2850.

— Lauren J. Mapp is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune