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August 2017 Graduating Class

Posted August 18th, 2017

August 2017

“Congratulations to the new guide dog teams on this graduation day.
The Woman’s Club of Danbury/New Fairfield is proud to be a sponsor
for the wonderful work that Guiding Eyes for the Blind accomplishes.”

The Woman’s Club of Danbury/New Fairfield

In grateful remembrance of Alvin and Wendy Nevins.

We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our
video streaming capabilities.

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:
Barbara & Janelle
Callie & Fallon
Julianna & Maggie (S)
Kirin (Sai) & Luther (P)
Megan & Hero
Michael & Jax
Nathaniel & Edgar
Norma & Bitsy
Robert & Kansas
Vicky Lynn & Peace

ACTION Training
Briley & Fuchsia
Lisa & Louie

Home Training
Barbara & Annalee
Ismael & Alexa
William & Kenner

P: A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.

S:  The donors listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dog:
•    Maggie was Special Named by Melissa Schubert in honor of her mother, Ruth, and grandmother, Mazura.

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our Training Staff:
Class Supervisor: Woody Curry
Class Instructors: Caryn Fellows, Nikki Wentz, Dan Weesner

Instructor Assistant: Amy Sander

ACTION Instructor: Miranda Beckmann

Running Guide Specialist: Nick Speranza

Home Training:
Megan Crowley, Home Training Instructor
Julie Angle, Special Needs Instructor
Michael Goehring, Field Representative

 

Barbara & JanelleBarbara Riehle & Janelle

Barbara was born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissues. In Barbara’s case that meant dislocated lenses. She had wanted a guide dog for some time as her vision was limited to light and shadow, shapes, and some minimal color. But she was told that she could see too well to qualify. It was her orientation and mobility instructor who gave her hope by recommending Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Barbara’s wish was fulfilled with Lil, a female black Lab.

After Lil died, Barbara picked up her white cane again. “It was inexplicably difficult,” she says. “It’s much harder to go back to a cane than it is using one in the first place. It erodes your confidence. It’s not frustrating—it’s just scary.”

Barbara will return to her home in Washington, D.C., where she and Janelle (Barbara calls her Nell), a female yellow Lab, will join her daughter. Barbara first came to D.C. many years ago to attend American University, where she earned a degree in international relations and Soviet studies. She followed that with an interesting career working for Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island, her home state. Indeed, she’d first met him when she was 16. “To get me out from underfoot, my mother suggested I volunteer for him!”

Describing Nell as “a very easygoing girl,” Barbara is looking forward to her help in widening her world which, she admits, had grown somewhat limited. “I have friends who live in different parts of town, so I plan to be out and about more. I used to do a lot of neighborhood rabble rousing, though I haven’t decided if I want to continue with that.” For years Barbara fought mightily to halt the ever-expanding “cookie-cutter development,” as she calls it, going on in the city. The worst of it for her personally was a major construction site right across the street from her home. “It was like a death trap for me.”

Barbara also hopes to do some traveling, to Charleston and Savannah and perhaps to Italy and France. With Nell by her side, the world is now full of possibilities!

Congratulations to Janelle’s puppy raisers, Jeanne Dregalla and Linda Soltis!

 

Briley & FuchsiaBriley O'Conner & Fuchsia

No stranger to Guiding Eyes, Briley was recently partnered with Fuchsia, a black-and-tan female German Shepherd—her third guide with us. Briley is a senior program instructor at Blind, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN, an adjustment-to-blindness training center for adults. In that capacity she travels a lot and, therefore, asked for a smaller dog that can fit easily into Uber and Lyft cars and on airplanes.

Briley participated in our abbreviated ACTION program for experienced handlers and our Running Guides program. “I picked up running about eight months ago, and it turns out that Fuchsia has trained to run while guiding me safely. “Now I will be able to just run outside without waiting for a sighted guide! And I live in running-path Mecca in Minneapolis!”

Having been born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare genetic eye disorder that affects the retina, Briley has some vision but has always identified as blind. She is married to Corbb, whom she met at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where she attended a nine-month program after college to improve her orientation and mobility skills. The couple has a two-year-old son.

In her spare time, Briley does improv comedy at Brave New Workshop, the oldest improv theatre in the U.S., and teaches voice, which she studied at Belmont University in Nashville, to students in her home. She is also very involved in the National Federation of the Blind.

When asked about her experience learning to work her guide dogs, Briley replied, “What I appreciate about Guiding Eyes is that I have always felt very respected, and I’ve learned to care for and respect my guides. It’s a great organization!”

Congratulations to Fuchsia’s puppy raiser, Barbara Ward-Blank!

 

Callie & FallonCallie Boone & Fallon

Born with hydrocephalus, Callie was outfitted with a shunt to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid, affording her a fairly normal life and 20/20 vision. All of that changed dramatically when she was 11. A member of the all-star cheerleading squad, Callie did a flip that landed her on her head. The outcome? A hairline fracture in the shunt that released so much spinal fluid into her brain that it killed the optic nerve.

Callie was left with some residual vision and a lot of functional vision. Although everything was extremely blurry, she could slightly make out things around her. “I had to learn to do everything differently, to depend on my other senses. I was entering junior high school, and that’s difficult even for the average person!”

Thankfully she had a ready-made support system. “My older sister was born profoundly deaf. My parents taught her that if you’re comfortable about yourself and your disability, then others will be comfortable around you. I got through, pretty successfully, in my opinion. Most people who know me will say I have a positive attitude about a bad outcome.”

Initially Callie depended more on sighted guides than a white cane. Since her home state of Kentucky does not have a guide dog school, she and her mom began doing countrywide research. Having heard about Omar Rivera, a Guiding Eyes graduate whose guide dog led him and others out of the Twin Towers on 9/11, her mom friended him on Facebook and asked questions. “His story really inspired me,” Callie says. “It’s why I decided to apply to Guiding Eyes.”

Now 18, Callie will return to Kentucky and begin her freshman year at Campbellsville University with Fallon, a female yellow Lab, by her side. Her intended major is social work. “Fallon will have to get used to a new town and new routes. Plus I’m very social, and I love hiking trails and shopping! I wasn’t aware of all a guide dog can do, so I’m in awe of everything. I’ve never been around a dog so well-trained and well-mannered. The instructors care about everyone’s success. It’s an awesome environment. It’s life-changing!”

Congratulations to Fallon’s puppy raiser, Nicole Dorsey!

 

Julianna & MaggieJulianna Lee & Maggie

Julianna has met her match in Maggie, a female black Guiding Eyes Lab. “She’s so energetic, so fun! I’m hyper, she’s hyper—we’re a perfect match!”

Julianna will be a sophomore in the fall at her high school in New Jersey. She was born completely blind with Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare genetic eye disorder that affects the retina, but at five months her vision began to improve. “I wear glasses and can see certain things and colors, but my field of vision is very narrow, so unless it’s right in front of me, I miss it.”

It wasn’t until fifth grade—by which time she had already lived in Pennsylvania, South Korea, and Virginia—that Julianna began using a white cane. Until then she had relied on sighted guides, including her parents. “But you know kids,” she says. “They want to just run around and play, and they’d leave me on my own. So it was amazing to be able to use a white cane. People no longer babied me. I was independent.”

Eventually Julianna realized she would need a guide dog in college. “That’s one of the reasons I applied early,” she explains. “I knew I’d need to have a strong bond with my guide dog before going off to a new environment.”

It was the Running Guides program that was the deciding factor in applying to Guiding Eyes. Julianna ran track in middle school, started a running club in seventh grade, and is hoping to run track again in the fall. “Maggie will be able to train with me, and I will be able to run whenever I want without having to wait for a sighted partner to be available.”

Maggie will also accompany Julianna to the student senate, the debating team (“I love debate!”), and national debates. In addition she loves writing and has entered writing contests. As for a college major? “History or political science,” she says. “Ideally, I want to go to one of the best colleges or universities.”

Wherever her future takes her, Julianna is grateful Maggie will be by her side. “Having a guide dog gives me so much independence. I’m going to be much more confident wherever I go. I know awesome things are going to come from this partnership!”

Congratulations to Maggie’s puppy raisers, Margaret Hughes and The Houghton Family!

 

Kirin (Sai) & LutherK. Sai Techawongtham&Luther

Courage, determination, curiosity, spunk. How else does one account for a young woman from Bangkok, Thailand, pursuing her dreams and goals so far from home?

Twenty-year-old Kirin, who goes by Sai, was 13 when she lost her sight due to a noncancerous brain tumor that irrevocably damaged her optic nerve. Post-surgery it seemed her sight might be restored. But it didn’t last. “The day I returned home my limited sight was all gone,” she says. “But we didn’t know why that was, so I was expecting my sight to slowly return. I’ve always struggled with asking for help. Once I lost my sight I had to ask for help a lot, and that was really hard. It was not a rapid transition psychologically.”

It was not easy being blind in Bangkok either. Sai switched to an American school, but she was their first blind student, and it was a learning process for everyone. Her parents, both journalists, helped tremendously, finding teachers and volunteering to teach Sai Braille.

Sai will return to Hendrix College in Arkansas in the fall, where she will be a junior pursuing a degree in counseling and therapy. “I had been using a white cane for about five years when I began really stressing out,” she recalls. “It was overwhelming. Over fall break, I visited a friend who had a dog. I played with him and felt it relieved my stress. That is when my wish for a guide dog began.”

Guiding Eyes partnered Sai with Luther, a male black Lab. “I had never had a dog before, so I worried that Luther would not like me. But I was taught how to show him love—petting, scratching—and that’s how we began to bond. I think he will be a great companion because I am quiet and introverted, and he will force me out at least five times a day. Because I do need quiet time—I get exhausted in crowds—I can be by myself but still have him with me.”

Sai worried, too, that she’s boring Luther. But there’s no chance of that. Luther gets to hear Sai play piano, violin, Thai flute, and the ukulele—and belt out songs from her favorite musicals!

Congratulations to Luther’s puppy raiser, Amy DeWitt!

 

Lisa & LouieLisa Cantwell & Louie

Lisa worked as a special education teacher at a pediatric center for children with serious medical and neurological challenges. It was her own sight loss that caused her to leave after 25 years.

Born with undeveloped retinas—“a fluke” Lisa calls it—her vision is minimal but not very functional. “I can see shapes of lights and, depending on the light when outdoors, I can make out objects.” For years she managed with a white cane, but ultimately decided it was time, for safety reasons, to get a guide dog. Her only reservation was whether her Maltese, Spanky, who runs the house, would object.

Asked what it was like to walk with her first Guiding Eyes guide Ogden, she said, “It felt very natural. I didn’t realize until then how much was in my way when walking with that white cane.” When Ogden retired, Lisa knew she didn’t want to go back to the cane. She returned recently for Louie, a male black Lab, and participated in our abbreviated ACTION program for experienced handlers. “With my guide by my side, I can go where I want to go versus only going where I need to go. And sometimes I have no destination in mind. I just want to go for a walk. With my white cane, I went to work and I went home. It was almost like an extra job just to get places.”

At some point Lisa would like to work with children again, as a volunteer. For now, she is taking guitar and voice lessons and enjoying music, everything from 70s folk music to classic rock. An avid reader, she belongs to three book clubs (“I love psychological suspense and historical fiction”). And she spends time with her husband and son and daughter.

“I like the fact that I blend into the crowd with my guide by my side,” Lisa says. “People may still remind me to watch out for this or that, but not in a way that makes me think they feel sorry for me. I am independent, confident, and safe. These dogs have enhanced my life and made it more enjoyable.”

Congratulations to Louie’s puppy raiser, Kristen Esemplare!

 

Megan & HeroMegan Hale & Hero

Megan talks about the “bumps in the road” that she’s experienced as a result of her vision loss. She was born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), a gene mutation that can cause tunnel vision as well as other visual limitations. “I have no peripheral vision,” she says, “so it’s more like tunnel vision, and distance is a trouble for me.” Although she’s always had nystagmus, a rapid, involuntary eye movement, she’s become more aware of it recently.

At a young age, Megan began using a white cane for navigation. She was seven when a puppy raiser at her life skills camp introduced her to the concept of guide dogs. Megan was hooked on the idea and applied to Guiding Eyes, eager to participate in the Running Guides program for people who wish to run or train without depending on sighted human guides. Megan runs on her school’s track team and throws shot put and discus. (Running guide dogs do not attend meets due to the attendant noise and chaos.)

Guiding Eyes partnered Megan with Hero, a male yellow Lab. “I won’t have to reIy on my friends or family to help me get around the mall or cross streets. I think Hero will also reduce the target on my back,” says Megan, who has been bullied by her peers. “Sometimes seeing a white cane, people think, Wow, we can pick on her! I think in time they’ll back away because of Hero.”

At 16, Megan will be a junior in high school this fall, with plans to study at Hudson Valley Community College when she graduates. Her life goal is to become a personal trainer. Megan shadows instructors, checks people in, and cleans equipment at the YMCA. This summer she volunteered at her church’s Bible School.

Megan’s parents, brother, and two sisters are ready to welcome Hero into the family fold. Megan’s mom, who thought she was allergic to dogs, found out that’s not the case. “She texted me while I was still training at Guiding Eyes and said, ‘I never thought I’d say this, but I’m going shopping for dog toys, a bed, everything!’ I texted back: ‘What are you going to do next—put a blue balloon on the mailbox that says It’s a boy’?”

Congratulations to Hero’s puppy raiser, Ian Murray!

 

Michael & JaxMichael Moore & Jax

It was Michael’s godmother who introduced him to the theater and opera when he was a young child. The self-professed “theater jock” knew when he stood on his high school stage that he would one day work on Broadway. He became a theatrical costume designer for Broadway shows, the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Crossroads Theatre, and was wardrobe supervisor for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Thinking he needed glasses, he went for an exam and was told he needed to go straight to the emergency room. A Type 1 diabetic since he was seven, he was now hearing that he had diabetic retinopathy. Within a few months he would be totally blind. He was 34. While Michael regained some of his sight, he has no usable vision in his left eye and is 20/800 in his right eye “on a good day.” Otherwise, he says, it’s like looking through a dirty window.

Michael returned to Guiding Eyes recently for Jax, his fifth guide, a male yellow Lab. Michael still remembers his first walk with Kyack, his first guide. “I was in front of a store when Kyack took off, with me in tow, got to an edge, made a left turn, stopped, crossed over the street and stopped. I broke down. It was like I was sighted again! I call Kyack the alpha dog’s alpha dog. He was so confident. His attitude was, “I’m taking my dude someplace so get out of my way!”

Michael has endured many medical challenges—detached retinas, multiple eye surgeries, and a quadruple bypass. And yet he remains steadfast in his desire to excel and give back. He was the first blind student to graduate from Rhode Island’s Roger Williams University School of Law where he helped develop a program for disabled and blind students. He was the first blind legal representative in the state’s family court. He volunteers his time to help those who are disabled or underprivileged. And he plans to write a book for children who are blind.

“These dogs have changed my life,” Michael says. “I could not have accomplished all that I have without them or the Guiding Eyes staff. Because I have severe neuropathy in my hands, it is difficult for me to release the clip that will open and close Jax’s harness. As a result they are having a harness redesigned— just for Jax and me.”

Congratulations to Jax’s puppy raisers, Cynthia & Darleen Farley-Marvin!

 

Nathaniel & EdgarNathaniel Kile & Edgar

Nate’s story is one of redemption. He grew up in an Anchorage ghetto and saw little in the way of opportunity. By the time he turned 21 he was totally blind due to an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound, and he was headed to prison.

Today, Nate works at the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired as an advanced technology instructor, a residential monitor, and a youth transition coordinator. He is an advanced technology consultant for the University of Alaska Anchorage where he is working on a degree in technology and business leadership. As a volunteer with the National Federation of the Blind, he sought funding to take eight kids to Florida for the annual convention, something that had never been done in his state. He is a licensed massage therapist, an assistant pastor, and has owned five businesses. And he writes fiction and plays the guitar.

When asked how he explains his stunning turnaround story, he says simply, “I was saved. My first day in prison I prayed that the Lord would take my life and make it His. In that cell my life changed.”

Of his commitment to the kids he works with, he says, “I’ve been that kid who slipped through the cracks. I tell them that no matter what life throws at you, you have the ability to dream. You just have to stretch out that dream with all of the energy and faith you have. And before you know it your dreams will become a reality. That’s what happened in my life, time and time again.”

Guiding Eyes partnered Nate with Edgar, a black Lab. “He’s a boy’s boy,” says Nate. “I can’t wait to take him fishing. I will be much more mobile with Edgar, able to travel for my job or pleasure.”

Nate is most appreciative of his Guiding Eyes experience. “I am completely humbled and blown away by the support I have received. I really, really respect the effort it has taken for Guiding Eyes to make this all possible. Life really does have a lot of amazing things to offer.”

Congratulations to Edgar’s puppy raisers, Mike & Sharon Walker Family!

 

Norma & BitsyNorma Rios & Bitsy

Norma worked as a nurse for 30 years, first in a nursing home and eventually in a psychiatric hospital. She was in her late 20s when she started having problems with her vision. After she hurt her back she knew it was time to consider a different career. By then fellow employees had noticed she was having problems with her vision.

Norma went back to school and earned degrees in hotel restaurant management and business administration. She became a certified chef and assistant executive chef, taught culinary classes, and taught high school students advanced college classes.

Last year she retired from the Schenectady County Community College. “My left eye was gone,” she says, “and my right eye was on its way out, although I can still see a little bit of shape and some color. Specialists think I might have had too many mini strokes that severed or disintegrated the main artery to the optic nerve. I knew I needed a guide dog because I had started to become a hermit, withdrawing from activities. I had so many bruises, a broken leg, and sprained ankles from falling or bumping into door frames. It took a while to accept that this was it for me, and I would have to adjust.”

Guiding Eyes partnered Norma with Bitsy, a female black Lab. “She’s very mellow and very observant. When my gait is off she stabilizes me. When other dogs are roughing it, she’ll stay by my side, calm, ready to nudge me if she senses I need her to steady me. I like to socialize, and Bitsy will mean companionship. Now I will be able to go where I want, when I want. I won’t have to wait on someone or risk falling. But most important, I will have my independence again. I will have the freedom I miss.”

Congratulations to Bitsy’s puppy raisers, The Schleyer Family!

 

Robert & KansasRobert Parsons & Kansas

At 24, Robert had dropped out of college and was living in Brooklyn, NY, keeping an eye on his grandmother. When she died, he stayed a few years, then relocated to Richmond where his parents were living because Brooklyn was too dangerous. Two weeks after he moved into his own apartment, two men broke into his home to rob him. While fighting one off, the other one shot him in the face. Three weeks later he awoke from a coma totally blind. No light perception, just totally black. The bullet had destroyed his left eye (he now wears a prosthesis), and the impact and blow had swelled his brain, destroying the optic nerve and his sight in his right eye.

Robert went back to school and earned his associate’s degree at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College; he will receive his bachelor’s from Randolph-Macon College in June 2018 in criminology. He plans to attend graduate school and major in rehabilitation counseling.

Weekends and evenings Robert works as a residential advisor at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired where he mentors the incoming students who have recently lost their sight. Life doesn’t have to end with your loss of vision, he tells them.

Robert knew he needed to replace his white cane with a guide dog for several reasons. At 6 foot 6 ¾ inches, he needed a customized white cane which was expensive. He was tired of bumping into trees and overhead signage, and his college was a dangerous place to navigate as it was situated near railroad tracks. Well-intentioned people, he says, were too helpful. “They’d grab my cane. And some didn’t know their right from their left!”

With Kansas, a male yellow Lab, Robert won’t have to worry about those kinds of challenges. He will be able to get where he needs to go quicker and easier. He’s already nicknamed his guide Kansas Amadeus Hufflepuff—Amadeus because Mozart is his favorite composer and Hufflepuff because on their second day together they watched a Harry Potter movie.

“Life is about to get easier,” Robert concludes.

Congratulations to Kansas’s puppy raisers, The Doheny Family!

 

Vicky & PeaceV. Lynn Prahin & Peace

Vicky doesn’t remember the first time she realized she was different from the other kids in her neighborhood. She was diagnosed at six months with retinoblastoma, a rare childhood eye cancer. By the time she was three she was totally and permanently blind. “I was one of the fortunate kids,” she says, “because my two siblings and the other kids figured out how to include me in the games they played.”

She was in elementary school, surrounded by children who didn’t know her, when she became more aware of the fact that she wasn’t functioning in the same way as they were. She learned Braille and basic orientation and mobility skills, then spent the rest of the day in regular classes. She was mainstreamed in high school, too, and graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati with a double major in classical language and Spanish. After earning her teaching certificates, Vicky taught ESL students at the University of Cincinnati, then earned her master’s degree in Spanish literature and linguistics. Currently she works at home as an English grammar and business law instructor for the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Since Vicky loves to read, she has a designated library in her home with floor to ceiling books in print, Braille, and audio. It’s filled with nonfiction (history, biographies, and “medical stuff”) and fiction (mysteries, suspense, and “fun stuff”). She also volunteers with the American Council of the Blind and serves as president of the Ohio affiliate.

Guiding Eyes partnered Vicky with Peace, a female yellow Lab, and her second Guiding Eyes guide. “Peace is a really interesting mix,” Vicky says. “She’s goofy, playful, and loves retrieving balls. And she’s very serious and very conscientious when it’s time to work. Most important, she settles quickly, and I need that with my career and volunteer work as I travel a lot for speaking engagements and for pleasure.”

The impact of a Guiding Eyes guide dog is clear to Vicky. “I can’t imagine life without a guide dog. When I had my white cane, people ignored me or treated me like I was ten years old. With my guide, I get respect. It’s a whole different world.”

Congratulations to Peace’s puppy raiser, Judy Wiles!