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May 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on May 26.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Cathy Bieder and Peaches

Cathy (Catherine) Bieder, who lives in Cortland Manor, New York did not have to travel far to meet Peaches, her third guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Cathy’s sight loss was attributed to retinopathy of prematurity, which rendered her totally blind by the time she was 18. Nonetheless, Cathy continued her education and received a B.S. in Computer Science from Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. Guiding Eyes was recommended to Cathy by her mobility instructor, who convinced her that the school was the very “best of the best” and that the campus was only a few miles from her home. Today, at the age of 40, Cathy has been happily married for 17 years to a “very helpful husband” who has just finished law school. They are parents of two great kids, ages 7 and 4. A homemaker at heart, with a passion for hamburgers and salad, Cathy cites reading and relaxing in front of the television her favorite pastimes. She also enjoys working as a volunteer at Guiding Eyes, when needed. Peaches is playful and yet a great worker. Cathy has been without a dog for two years. Now that her younger son is about to enter kindergarten, she is ready and anxious to get out into the world again: to take walks in the country, get out and about in the snow and travel to the village and shop. In short, to live a life of independence once again. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a wonderful facility with a fantastic program that allows each student to go at his own speed of attainment and is there to address everyone’s individual needs. What a wonderful place to come back to!”

Kimberly Cotterman and Ralph

Kimberly Cotterman, at 23, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Arlington, Virginia for Ralph, her second guide dog from the school. Her first dog is now retired with his puppy raisers. Kimberly initially chose Guiding Eyes after careful research and the advice of her friends who unanimously claimed that it was “the very best school.” Kimberly’s sight loss was due to a genetic cause at birth that left her with partial vision. Kimberly graduated from Wake Forest University in North Carolina with a B.A. in Anthropology and is hoping to attain a Master’s in the same field. She is engaged in an internship lobbying for the National Organization for Women. Kimberly loves to travel and has already been to faraway places like Australia and Nepal. She loves to explore new things, has a special place in her heart for horses, and enjoys the companionship of many friends. She thinks that Ralph, though a bit goofy when at play, is obedient and that their bonding is a steady work in progress. Without a dog for five weeks, Kimberly has been miserable, so eagerly looks forward to total independence once again. She says it seemed like coming home. Kimberly especially enjoys the “friendly, helpful staff who is not only serious about training but fully invested in your success.”

Randy Demetro and Linus

(Thomas) Randy Demetro has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind all the way from Odessa, Texas for his new companion and guide, Linus. After graduating from high school, Randy had successfully driven a truck for United Parcel Service using self-devised methods of route and customer memorization. When he reached the age of 29, a company eye exam disclosed that Randy was legally blind and UPS had thought him to be their very best driver! It was later found that Randy’s cause of partial blindness and severe hearing loss was due to Usher’s syndrome. He was confronted with a brand new challenge in life. He immediately took some correspondence courses from The Commission for the Blind, and then attended Life Bible College. At present, Randy is a successful pastor of a thriving Pentecostal Church. Married with a 24 year-old daughter and 21-year old son, he says his favorite pastimes are riding a tandem bike, exercising in his home gym and spending a good deal of “value time” with his wife. He describes Linus as compassionate, loving people, playful, but obedient and aggressively thoughtful of his new master’s needs. “With him at my side, I can now walk at a faster pace. I feel exhilarated and confident! Guiding Eyes, for me, has been an answer to prayer. The organization itself performs a great ministry. It produces independence and self-confidence. In biblical terms, I have discovered here the true “fruits of the spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, goodness. It has indeed been a blessed and life-building experience.”

Richard Fiorello and Impala

Buffalo, New York, region of the “big snow of October, 2006, is the home of Richard Fiorello, who has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Impala, his fourth guide dog from the school. Richard weighed in at 2 pounds at birth and was blind as the result of retinopathy of prematurity. He came to Guiding Eyes for his first dog in 1990 because of his acknowledged need for mobility and more independence. He had heard many good things about the school from various media. Richard’s wife is also blind and has a guide dog from Guiding Eyes. They have two children, ages 24 and 27, and one beautiful granddaughter, Jordan, 19 months old. After graduating from college with a B.A. in History, Richard was employed by the Internal Revenue Service for 32 years and is now retired. He is an amateur radio operator and an active member of his Baptist Church. Impala is mellow, calm and obedient. Richard knew right from the start that he had great potential. Noting lots of changes at Guiding Eyes for the Blind since the 90’s, he cited the “brand new wonderful facilities, computer equipment, delicious (and not necessarily fattening) food, sensible new commands, adaptable equipment and expanded program. Everything they do here is to make you and your dog an effective team!”

Curtis Graham, Jr. and Jeeter

Baltimore, Maryland is the home of Curtis Graham, Jr., who at the age of 57, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Jeeter, his first guide dog. Glaucoma developed after Curtis had served as a Marine in Vietnam, followed by a satisfying career as a Trailways bus driver. Curtis came to Guiding Eyes upon the recommendation of his counselor at rehab. Curtis also had volunteered at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and will now be a pioneer there, along with Jeeter in the position of Information Specialist. Curtis is dad to five grown children, and has been happily married to his second wife for eight years. He is a member of the American Legion and League of the Marines. He loves to travel, swim and likes to cook. “Jeeter,” he says, “is a lot like me and I know that he will be a tremendous factor in helping me to attain my independence. Instead of having to depend on others, when I’m ready to go, we’ll go! Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a great school. Here, they are down to earth, helpful and consistent. As a first-timer, at my age, I would shout to the world: It doesn’t get any better than this!”

Kim Johnson and Rasha

Kim Johnson from the borough of Bronx, New York has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Rasha, his fourth dog. Kim decided to come to Guiding Eyes through the advice of a buddy who was particularly happy with the dog and training he had received here. Kim applied, and Guiding Eyes’ response was immediate and positive. Today he is a more-than satisfied customer. Kim is a marketing associate for a telecommunications equipment cabling and securities contractor specializing in phone systems located in Manhattan, NY. He has two daughters, ages 27 and 28, of whom he is very proud. Kim is an avid reader who loves to take long walks to keep his body in shape. He treats Rasha, female German Shepherd “as a lady” and deeply trusts in her ability to respond to his needs. They have already developed a strong bond. She insists on sharing her bone with him. Kim was effusive in his praise of his dog: “She is better than any dog I have ever had!” Of the school: “What a wonderful place. The changes that have been made in facility and methods have made this a better place.” And the training program: “I can never thank Guiding Eyes for the Blind enough. There is so much more than words can express.”

Sherrel Jolls and Nessa

Another Texan, Sherrel Jolls, lives in Austin and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her very first guide dog, Nessa. Diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy 14 years ago, Sherrel found Guiding Eyes through the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind. There she met Becky Barnes, Manager of Consumer Outreach and Graduate Support for the School. Sherrel was very nervous about traveling, but her fears were dissipated when she learned how Becky is able to travel thousands of miles confidently and safely per year with her dog. Sherrel received certification as a Diabetes Educator from Austin’s Community College. She enjoys working on her computer doing research, playing games and reading. Nessa has proven to be a true sweetheart and obedient guide. “I am learning to build up my trust in her and to put my life in her hands (paws). I know that I will now be able to travel with confidence, in town and to faraway places as well. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a place where you know they have a deep concern for your very life and earnestly want you to succeed. While you are at the school, the responsibilities of everyday living are in their hands, so that every student can concentrate on learning.”

Adonia Martinez and Kay

Alto, Georgia is the home of Adonia Martinez, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Kay, her very first dog. Born 24 years ago with retinopathy of prematurity, Adonia lost complete sight at the age of six as the result of a playground accident at her school. She was given a tape depicting Guiding Eyes’ program of training while she was at summer camp in 2001 and realized that the school could be instrumental in giving her a “new life.” Adonia is a massage therapist who works from home and also at the office of a weight loss doctor. She hopes to obtain a scholarship that will enable her to go to college to prepare and ultimately qualify her to be employed in the field of psychology. Adonia also sings, plays the keyboard, likes to read, go to the movies and shop. She works as a volunteer at a shelter for abused women. She knows that Kay’s “let’s get moving, restless, obedient and affectionate” nature will complement her own propensity for activity. She is also confident that Kay will change her life for the better. The dog will give her independence, safety and self-confidence wherever she goes. Her praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind was deep and appreciative: “Here they train the dogs well. The instructors are thorough, patient and understanding with every student 24/7. I have really learned a lot and totally enjoyed the process! Long live Guiding Eyes!”

Jacquelyn Olsen and Bach

Jacquelyn Olsen traveled all the way from Tempe, Arizona for Bach, her second guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Jacque’s sight loss was diagnosed as retinitis pigmentosa 22 years ago. Married for 36 years and mother of two, Jacque is also a very proud grandmother of one grandson. She came to Guiding Eyes as the result of some comprehensive research, and later strong recommendation from a Guiding Eyes graduate from Brazil. (As a result of that friendship, she has traveled to Brazil eight times, and has many friends there.) Jacque received her Masters in Food Science that qualified her to work in the field of Quality Assurance. She loves to travel, and volunteers for disability-related organizations. She has acted in leadership roles for Tempe’s Mayor’s Commission on Disability Concerns, The Foundation Fighting Blindness and others. In her spare time, Jacque enjoys making pottery with clay, listening to music, walking, fishing and has also sung with her Lutheran church choir. She notes that Bach has a quiet composure and conducts himself superbly. Jacque knows that now she can do anything, and go anywhere she wants to go. Of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she says: “I’m so glad I made the change. Here I have met a variety of people, my dog is perfect and the entire program, in every way, has far surpassed my expectations!”

Marge Schmitz and Laker

Marge Schmitz has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from St. Cloud, Minnesota for her first Guiding Eyes dog, Laker. Barely over three pounds at birth, Marge is blind as a result of retinopathy of prematurity. Now 53 years of age, mother of a 33-year-old daughter and 11 year-old granddaughter (of whom she is very proud), Marge knew it was time for her to expand her life a bit more. She came to Guiding Eyes as a result of internet research, word of mouth and reading descriptive periodicals which described the school’s program. Marge has a Master’s degree in Health Education from St. Cloud State University and has been employed as a part-time instructor in that field at a college/university level. She loves to walk, read, shop, and visit friends. She says that Laker is like a Mercedes Benz: proficient, with a slow idle but a calm steady sure-of-himself demeanor. In the land of heavy winter snow, Marge anticipates that she will be able to walk a lot faster, straighter and further with self-confidence. Her personal evaluation of Guiding Eyes for the Blind is short, but expressive: “The proficiency in training here is par excellence: well thought through and carried out with compassion, patience and skill. It is complete in every sense of the word.”

Alan Skiest and Lennon

Panama City Beach, Florida is the year-round home of Alan Skiest, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his very first dog. Alan, who is the “senior member” of this month’s class, lost his sight 18 years ago from cone/rod degeneration, meaning the rods in his retina were not transmitting visual signals to his brain. In accordance with the strong recommendation given him by his mobility instructor, Alan’s second wife of 12 years firmly encouraged him to get in touch with Guiding Eyes. A graduate of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, Alan was employed in many different locations as a software engineer working in analysis and programming for several companies, ultimately becoming a field consultant. A proud dad of five boys and grandfather of 13, Alan has served a total of 21 years, first in the Army National Guard and then the Air Force National Guard. Alan likes to gamble a bit, but also enjoys fishing and walking on the beach. His guide dog’s personality is demonstrated by his readiness to obey and love his new master. Alan, with his faithful four-legged companion by his side, will now be able to assume more responsibilities that will give his life more freedom. Alan, who has seen a lot of life, traveled and lived in many places, had this to say about Guiding Eyes for the Blind: “It is A #1. I could not have chosen a better place!”

Amy Weaver and Lamont

Amy Weaver of Mobile, Alabama has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her second dog, Lamont, a black Lab, following the untimely loss of Karl, her former nine-year-old guide dog and close companion. Amy’s sight loss is due to diabetic retinopathy. Her initial contact with Guiding Eyes was through observing and listening to the advice of a former student. Amy, now 33, is enrolled at the University of South Alabama and hopes to get a Master’s degree there in the field of biological psychology research. Amy says she loves boating and water skiing, reading and just plain relaxing. Lamont is like an “old soul, laid back and very obedient, but not overly affectionate.” Amy knows that he will give her more mobility and the independence she longs for. Of Guiding Eyes for the Blind she says, “They are the best. I love them. They treat you like family, are giving and generous. It is like going on vacation to come here.”