April 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on April 28.

Graduating Class 4/2007

Koyla Frasier and Ingrid
Willie Givens and Zed
Mike Golfo and Kaiser
Brunie Hogan and Welles
Carol Huebner and Clarence
Zerline Johnson and Margo
Sam McClain and Dustin
Desiree Roberts and Jake
Darrell Washington and Trevor
Susan Wentzy and Sherlock
Charlotte Williams and Wadsworth
Shara Winton and KC
And many thanks to our instructors:

Stephanie Ellias, Apprentice Instructor
Greg Levick, Class Supervisor
Mark Liflander, Instructor Assistant
Andrea Martine, Special Needs Instructor
Sharon Walsh, Instructor

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Koyla Frasier and IngridKoyla Frasier and Ingrid

Koyla Frasier hails from Minnesota and at the age of 64, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her very first guide dog, Ingrid. Born the youngest of eight children, Koyla has been married for 35 years and is the mother of four. Diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration when she was 11 years old, she was considered to be legally blind at the age of 16. She came to Guiding Eyes upon the high recommendations of a friend. Koyla is now retired and enjoys doing crossword puzzles, playing cards, working on her computer and keeping house. Ingrid and she are engaged in bonding. She especially appreciates Ingrid’s quiet nature, complemented by an alert sense of duty. Koyla rather recently experienced a heart attack and knows that exercise is a necessary item on her daily agenda. Ingrid will motivate her to get out and about, not only to improve her health, but to also help her overcome her fear of falling. Koyla will now feel much more secure. She especially appreciates the structured environment here and the excellence and patience of the instructors.

Willie Givens and ZedWillie Givens and Zed

Willie Givens makes his home in the Bronx, New York. He has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his very first guide dog, Zed, a male black Lab. Willie lost his sight as the result of macular degeneration just seven years ago. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was highly recommended to him by Jewish Guild for the Blind’s Guild Net. Willie, a retired electrician, would like to go back to school for a degree in engineering. Willie likes to bowl. He also sings gospel music as a tenor/bass and enjoys and contributes to his church’s music program. He professes a strong faith. Zed, he says, is an obedient, well-trained and affectionate canine, that offers his paw as an expression of his devotion. Willie strongly feels that Zed will help him to navigate and is especially looking forward to the day on which the Guiding Eyes students will visit New York City, working through traffic situations and using public transportation. Both will play a vital part in his everyday life. Willie is effusive in his praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “They are so good! The staff and program operate like clockwork. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is surely who they claim to be and much more!”

Mike Golfo and KaiserMike Golfo and Kaiser

Nearby Tarrytown, New York is the home of Mike Golfo, who has, like many of his classmates, come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his very first dog. Mike is an avid Yankees fan, and wears his “heart” on the sleeves of his navy blue jacket! Now 32 years of age, Mike lost his sight as the result of retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 14. He came to Guiding Eyes due to the advice of a coworker at Lighthouse International in New York City. A graduate of the Dominican College, located in nearby Blauvelt, New York, Mike now works as an Information Technician for Lighthouse Industries. He mans the help desk that serves over 200 people daily. His favorite pastimes include watching sports, (go, Yankees) as well as working and playing games on his computer. Kaiser is a yellow Labrador with a patient, affectionate nature. His innate ability to circumvent navigational challenges will be of tremendous help to Mike as he leads him through the complexities of para transit and the pitfalls of working New York City streets. Kaiser will also save him money on commuter transport that he will no longer needs to use! Mike knows that Kaiser will be a phenomenal help in his own quest for independence. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides a family environment in which to learn. I will never go anywhere else. The instruction, dogs and single room accommodations are definitely first class. Long live Guiding Eyes!”

Brunilda (Bruney) Hogan and WellesBrunilda (Bruney) Hogan and Welles

New York’s Borough of the Bronx is home to Brunilda (Brunie) Hogan, who has come back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her second dog, Welles. Brunie experienced gradual sight loss due to retinitis pigmentosa back in 1975 when she was 25 years old. Of Spanish heritage, Brunie was employed as a bi-lingual translator for hospital patients. She came to Guiding Eyes as a result of her own personal search through hearsay and observation. She was drawn by the school’s training methods, environment and quality dogs. Now, at the age of 57, married for 16 years, and a grandmother of two, Brunie loves to read and is a true homemaker. She irons her husband’s dress shirts, is a great cook, does crafts with her grandchildren and sews. Although she has little vision, she can keenly visualize such projects. A devotee of southern gospel music, Brunie enjoys teaching Sunday School in her church, as well. She is delighted with Welles, whose energy, affection, obedience and focus know no bounds. Brunie has been without a dog for 18 months. She is eager to get back out and about. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind,” she says, “now provides single occupancy rooms, has changed/clarified some commands, but most important of all, the organization, from porter to president, is still totally focused on watching out for each student. They are truly here for us!”

Carol Huebner and ClarenceCarol Huebner and Clarence

Carol Huebner has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind all the way from Carlsbad, California to receive Clarence, her first guide dog. Carol, thought to be a “slow learner” as a child, was 17 years old when she suffered several bad falls, resulting in some serious back injuries. It was then discovered that her poor eyesight, caused by retinitis pigmentosa, was the major culprit. Carol’s mom recently researched opportunities for an expanded lifestyle for her daughter and found that Guiding Eyes would accept Carol in its Special Needs Program. Now, at the age of 41, Carol is working in the laundry department for 15 hours per week at an assisted living retirement home. She has been living by herself in her own condo for eight years. She enjoys collecting autographs of actors and stunt people, loves listening to DVDs, going to the beach and exercising in the gym. Carol says that Clarence works very well, is totally dependable and most affectionate. She has a feeling of total confidence with him at her side. He is fast becoming her “buddy.” Clarence will make it possible for Carol to go to the beach more often, take public transport with confidence and cross busy streets safely. She is looking forward to his company as they fly home to Carlsbad. Carol’s honest evaluation of Guiding Eyes is: EXCELLENT! Her final comment to those who are blind: “Don’t stay at home. Get out and be a part of the world. Come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind.”

Zerline Johnson and MargoZerline Johnson and Margo

Another student from New York, Zerline Johnson has lived in Manhattan since ‘93. She has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her fifth dog, Margo. Born blind with retinopathy of prematurity, Zerline chose Guiding Eyes because of her own observations of her friends’ success and total satisfaction with their dogs from the school. Zerline matriculated through the public school system, and actually taught herself to read Braille. She said it was “fun!” Formerly employed by the State of New York in the area of Disability Benefits Compensation, Zerline, now in her 50’s, is happy at her home. She busily engages in knitting, baking, reading, shopping, cooking (favorite breakfast is grits and eggs) and doing volunteer work for several organizations serving the blind. She is also a faithful parishioner at her Roman Catholic church. “Margo,” she says, “has a quiet and loving but playful soul, and is truly an attention-getter as a guide.” Zerline knows that with Margo, she will be able to explore new areas, and make new friends. ”My dogs have always been an asset as conversation starters and garnering attention to and support for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Together, we have raised $35,000 for the school. The treatment here is excellent. The staff is patient, helpful and totally responsive;. The product of all those things is indescribable!”

Sam McClain and DustinSam McClain and Dustin

Stockbridge, Georgia is the home of Sam McClain, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to meet Dustin, his second dog from the school. Sam lost his sight in 1996 as the result of an automobile accident, at which time he was employed in the construction trade. As a person who treasured his independence (and also loved dogs), Sam followed the advice given him at the Georgia Century Center and contacted Guiding Eyes. The school’s immediate positive response initiated Sam’s re-entry into what he had considered to be a “lost world.” Sam entered the Business Enterprise Program and now is employed as a sandwich/snack vendor where he enjoys a life of sociability and renewed purpose. He is an avid fisherman (catch and release) and especially finds his sense of adventure sated by operating a four-wheeler dirt bike. In his more quiet moments, he enjoys listening to music, especially jazz. Sam feels that he and Dustin have bonded already. “Dustin,” says Sam, “was created and chosen just for me. He is sweet, intelligent, and communicates his affection for me with his soft tongue on my cheek. I sleep with my head at the bottom of the bed close to his tie-down so we can feel connected. I know that he will not only ensure my total independence but give me love and companionship.” Sam describes Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a wonderful organization where everyone – administration and staff – make you feel you are a member of one happy family.

Darrell Washington and TrevorDarrell Washington and Trevor

Darrell Washington, from University Park, Illinois, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Trevor, his first guide dog. Darrell, an athletic and goal-oriented person, woke up one morning 16 years ago and could neither see nor hear. The diagnosis of this unusual double loss was macular degeneration. Now 54 years of age, Darrell has taken an important step towards regenerating a purposeful life for himself. He carefully listened to what Joanna Miller, a recent deaf and blind Guiding Eyes graduate, had to say about the school and followed her advice to apply. Darrell attended the University of Illinois majoring in psychology, and plans to reach his career goal of becoming a counselor for the deaf and blind. Darrell’s favorite pastimes are walking, hiking, cross-country skiing and cycling, all of which will become more attainable with Trevor in the lead. Darrell wears several hearing devices to enable him to communicate. He knows that Trevor, with his gentle, attentive and strong sense of awareness of what is going on around him, will be a tremendous asset. Darrell mentioned that the new Hybrid cars have occasionally sneaked up on him because of their lack of engine noise. Trevor will most certainly be his ears as well as his eyes. Darrell knows that with Trevor his life will begin anew and what has been a vast void will come alive. Darrell is more than satisfied with his stay at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “The food is excellent, the instructors are great: firm, yet friendly and kind. Yes, I’m glad I came, Joanna!”

Susan Wentzy and SherlockSusan Wentzy and Sherlock

Susan Wentzy has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Silver Spring, Maryland for her second dog, Sherlock. Susan’s sight loss is the result of retinopathy of prematurity (she weighed 1 pound 11 ounces at birth) and glaucoma. Susan says she came to Guiding Eyes as a result of the positive testimony of a fellow graduate of the school and she’s happy that she followed that advice. Susan received her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina and her Masters in International Studies at the University of East Carolina. She is now employed as a civil servant with the Department of Agriculture in the field of marketing. Her dad was in the US Military so Susan, always on the move with her family as a youngster, has traveled (and lived) extensively around the United States and other faraway places. Susan still enjoys traveling, reading, socializing, knitting and she sings in her Methodist church choir. Susan feels that Sherlock is a great match for her. He is sort of “goofy” but is a very serious, intelligent and a strong leader when in harness. Susan was without a dog for a month, and is even more grateful now for having her own “private eye.” “Sherlock, with his energy skills and sense of joy, will allow me to live my life to its fullest.” Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind as being “wonderful, just like a family,” she also expressed her appreciation for the school’s new provision for each student to have his/her own room. “It really makes it so much easier to bond with your dog.”

Charlotte Williams and WadsworthCharlotte Williams and Wadsworth

Claremont, Oklahoma is home to Charlotte Williams, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Wadsworth (*Watts). It was recognized that Charlotte was hard of hearing when she was in the second grade and by the age of 11, she was wearing hearing aids and later received two implants, as well. At the age of 32, she was declared legally blind as the result of retinitis pigmentosa. Undaunted and bent on making the most of her life, Charlotte was married for 47 years (her husband is deceased), she bore five children, has 14 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren and is very proud of every single one! Charlotte keeps herself busy. She works in a thrift shop two days a week, loves to crochet (arthritis has slowed that down), and is currently learning Braille. She lip-reads and has many devices in her home: Video Eye, telephone captioning, sonic boom clocks, phone and doorbell alarms, etc. She received training at Helen Keller Services for the Blind. She knows that Watts will be a tremendous asset in helping her. He is a calm, quiet and wonderful leader. The icing on the cake is that he is generous with his frequent kisses! Charlotte is looking forward to getting around Claremont with more confidence, unafraid to be by herself. She promises to be a strong example and advocate in Claremont for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. *Watts’ original name was “Wadsworth,” which was altered to accommodate Charlotte’s need to clearly articulate his name.

Shara Winton and KCShara Winton and KC

Shara Winton from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, another first timer in this month’s class, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to meet her new guide dog, KC. Shara did lots of research on the internet and conducted her own poll of users’ experiences and opinions of the school before choosing Guiding Eyes. Shara lost her sight at the age of 13. A brain tumor had damaged her optic nerve. She earned a B.A in communications followed by a Masters in naturopathy. She put her knowledge to work in the field of public relations/development with the goal of helping others and preventing illness. Shara, now 38, is an enthusiastic soccer mom who doggedly follows her eight-year old son’s progress in the sport. She cites her favorite stress-reduction exercise to be a “sit” in a long, hot bath. Shara is actively involved with issues of racial unity, public transportation, elections and accessibility for people with disabilities in her community. Shara feels that KC’s facility for work, intelligence, as well as his sweet and affectionate but always ready-to-go nature will serve her well. She knows that life will change when she returns to Tennessee. She will be able to travel with ease and feel a real sense of independence. Shara has nothing but high praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She, in one word, termed the school “fabulous” then added, “Every person here is genuine and willing to help!”