April 2018 Graduating Class

 In Graduations, News & Events

April 2018 Class Photo

APRIL 2018 GRADUATING CLASS

In Memory of Zachary St. Jean. We will always remember his mischievous smile and how proud he was when he worked with Hyde. His ability to give to others was inspiring!

-Cleveland East Puppy Raisers 

Congratulations to this month’s graduates and guides, as well as all those who made today possible!

-The Puppy Raisers Club at the University of Rhode Island

Congratulations to all the graduates! We wish you all the best in your new life with your four-legged partners.

-Guiding Eyes for the Blind at Cornell University

In Loving Memory of Marianne Bell. Guiding Eyes is deeply grateful for Marianne’s dedication and generosity to our mission during her lifetime and beyond.

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

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.


Residential Graduates:

  • Angel & Nola
  • April & Kava
  • David & Jiff
  • James & Pete
  • James & Fletcher
  • James & Nacho
  • Jazmine & Lenny
  • Kassandra & Kingsley
  • Kevin & Aura
  • Miriam & Illa
  • Nancy & Hyde
  • Shelly & Rusty (S)

Home Training:

  • Jessica & Elwood (P)
  • Jill & Quantum
  • Maria & Yami

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 dogs:

  • Rusty was Special Names by the Nakamura family.

Congratulations to our graduating class!


Many thanks to our Training Staff:

  • Class Supervisor: Miranda Beckmann
  • Class instructors: Caryn Fellows, Allison Greenberg, Deanna Lentini
  • Instructor Assistant: Zoe Picanso
  • Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza

Home Training:

  • Assistant Director of Training: Graham Buck
  • Special Needs Instructor: Julie Angle
  • Home Training Instructor: Christina Vetrano

Meet the Graduates: 

Angel & Nola

Angel & Nola

Angel & Nola

Angel returned to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, yellow Lab Nola. Although the decision to retire her first partner, Imanya, was hard, Angel fell fast for Nola, who she says is cuddly, playful, and a fast learner – Angel already taught Nola to give her a kiss!

Angel’s vision loss is a result of retinopathy of prematurity. Early on, Angel did not know that people who are visually impaired could even qualify for a guide dog. After meeting up with a friend who is visually impaired and a guide dog user, a new world of opportunity opened for Angel. She got her first guide dog not long after in her twenties.

Since then, Angel says her guide dogs have started a lot of conversations for her. “With a guide dog, I have a better line of communication between me and other people. With a cane, no one wants to come up and talk to you.”

Angel is an active volunteer in her home state of Indiana and recently helped with an Easter egg hunt for children with vision loss. The local police bomb squad devised beeping eggs and the volunteers placed smaller eggs around them. When she’s not organizing beeping egg hunts, Angel also volunteers at the YMCA, the local association for the blind, and a women’s advocacy center.

In June, Angel and her boyfriend are attending a “blind prom.” She has her own outfit planned out – but just started thinking about what Nola will wear!

Congratulations to Nola’s puppy raisers, The Boy Family.

April & Kava

April & Kava

April & Kava

“The hardest thing is that first walk with a new guide.” Paired with her third guide dog, Kava, April speaks from experience. April and Kava have come a long way since that first walk and April is excited to “pick up and go” with Kava when she returns home to Wisconsin, where she recently relocated after completing a leadership development fellowship through National Industries for the Blind.

Blind since birth, April is an avid reader and belongs to a book club. Kava will join April’s two pet dogs at home and settle quickly into her working groove – after three weeks away, April is headed right back to work at her new job as a customer service operations manager in Milwaukee.

Last time April was at Guiding Eyes it was a family affair. She came with her sister and the two of them got their guide dogs – who are cousins – together. She can’t enough about Guiding Eyes staff, especially the kitchen and housekeeping staff who “go above and beyond to make us feel at home.”

Congratulations to Kava’s puppy raisers, Becky Biggs, The Clark Family, and Barbara Keyes.

David & Jiff

David & Jiff

David & Jiff

Jiff may be the first dog David has been able to nickname “Peanut Butter,” but David has plenty of experience working with a guide dog. David is a familiar face at Guiding Eyes (which he affectionately calls “a first-class operation”); he returned this April for his fourth dog (but first yellow Lab after three black Lab guides).

At age 79, David enjoyed a lengthy career spanning a variety of industries. He is an Airforce veteran, former truck driver and steel mill worker, and most recently an English teacher and vocational program tutor for post-high school students. While he notes that has slowed down a bit since his first guide dog, he still plans to use Jiff for exercise, and values the freedom to stay active that having a guide dog provides. “Having a guide dog gives you more independence and comfort to do the things you wouldn’t normally do,” he says.

David and his wife call Pennsylvania home, and he notes that the entire community is very “enthusiastic” and “respectful” of his guide dog. He expects the community to welcome Jiff with open arms, and even adds that his wife “might be more excited to see and meet Jiff than I was.”

Congratulations to Jiff’s puppy raisers, Suzan & Lorenzo Bocciarelli!

Jimmy & Pete

Jimmy & Pete

James “Jimmy” & Pete

Jimmy, a Westchester native, came to Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog, black Lab Pete. The father of two has worked in the health and fitness sector for 25 years, and in addition to being very physically active, he manages a health and fitness store in the area. Not surprisingly, he loves to work out and stay in shape, and says Pete “reminds me of myself – independent and focused.”

Jimmy lost his vision due to Stargardt’s, with which he was diagnosed in 1974, and while he’s used to using a cane, he feels more comfortable venturing out with his guide dog. Once he started trusting Pete, he found he could walk more naturally and faster – something he hadn’t done in nearly 10 years.  He knew a guide dog would open up more opportunities and give him more freedom, and his friends and family agreed, throwing him a “dog shower” to make sure Pete receives a warm welcome home!

Of Guiding Eyes, Jimmy says: “They spoil us!” He says the trainers truly care about the students, and even notes that when he told them about his store, they helped develop a specific route to it just for him. Jimmy has also been surprised at just how smart Guiding Eyes dogs are, saying Pete’s intelligence is “surpassing all expectations.”

Congratulations to Pete’s puppy raisers, the Katie Cox Family.

James & Fletcher

James & Fletcher

James & Fletcher

James, an Army veteran who lives in Oregon with his wife and three children, is paired with his second Guiding Eyes guide dog, German shepherd Fletcher. He lost his vision due to multiple explosions during six deployments. James, who owns a gun store and is the only blind person in the U.S. to hold a Class III federal firearms permit, is active with the Blinded Veterans Association.

Fletcher, who will follow in the footsteps of James’s first guide dog Manford, is a larger guide dog who can work in multiple speeds, making him aptly suited for James’s active lifestyle. James describes him as “very smart” and a “great match.”

James already feels Fletcher’s impact on his life, saying he is lucky to have him and knows their bond will help him stay confident and navigate more smoothly and safely than he could with a cane. He looks forward to bringing him home, familiarizing him with farm life, introducing him to friends, and teaching his children about his role as a working dog.

Congratulations to Fletcher’s puppy raisers, the McNulty Family.

Jim & Nacho

Jim & Nacho

Jim and Nacho

Jim moved to Colorado to take advantage of the outdoor life – hiking, skiing, running – anything the rugged terrain had to offer. As his sight declined due to diabetic retinopathy, he found himself spending more and more time inside. He hopes getting his first guide dog, yellow Lab Nacho, will set him back on a course for adventure.

Nacho won’t be lonely back at home and, in fact, he was purposely selected for his ability to work in the company of Jim’s two dogs, four pigs, three goats, one miniature donkey, and a pond full of ducks and geese.

Jim describes himself as an independent, outdoorsy person. One of the things that attracted him to Guiding Eyes is the Running Guides program. Whether walking or running he, “loves the idea of going out with [Nacho] and doing some exploring.”

At home with his wife, Jim balances his work as a child psychologist with an array of hobbies – from woodworking and model trains to playing a piano that has been in the family for 100 years. He’s the proud father of two college-student sons and says the whole family is looking forward to meeting Nacho.

Congratulations to Nacho’s puppy raisers, Scott Diskin, and the Previte Family.

Jazmine & Lenny

Jazmine & Lenny

Jazmine & Lenny

Jazmine, who grew up with pets but comes to Guiding Eyes for her first guide dog, is paired with black Lab Lenny. She calls Lenny “a gem” and quickly learned to trust him with her life. Lenny has opened up Jazmine’s world, already helping her do things she’s never done before. He loves playing and gives a lot of love!

Diagnosed with Stargardt’s in 2008, Jazmine has limited remaining vision in both eyes, but that hasn’t held her back from recently completing her BA in psychology. She is preparing to attend graduate school this summer to receive her MBA with the goal of going into marketing/management. She also volunteers as a crisis counselor at home in Delaware.

Of Guiding Eyes, Jazmine says her experience at the school has helped her come out of her comfort zone, try new things, and take on new adventures. She can’t wait to go on more with her new canine companion and appreciates the peace of mind of having him by her side. Jazmine came to Guiding Eyes not knowing what to expect, but was amazed at how skilled Lenny already was, and that the trainers are so “caring and accommodating.”

Congratulations to Lenny’s puppy raiser, April Krason.

Kassie & Kingsley

Kassie & Kingsley

Kassandra “Kassie” & Kingsley

Kassie’s bond with Kingsley, her second guide dog, was almost immediate, and when she speaks of her new companion, she beams with excitement. During their first walk together, Kingsley showed Kassie he was strong and in tune with her, and she cried from happiness when they reached the first intersection together.

Kingsley is Kassie’s second guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes. She says her first dog helped her to learn, and now she has “more tools in her toolbox” as she heads home with Kingsley. Kassie looked to Guiding Eyes this time around because of the school’s nationwide support system, emphasis on home interviews, and ability to match students with dogs “perfectly.” She’s loved working with Guiding Eyes trainers who she describes as “respectful, understanding, encouraging, and consistent – more than I could have imagined!” She was also excited to train with Kingsley in NYC, giving her good experience in line with her future travel plans.

Kassie, who was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma at birth, calls Indiana home and is currently a college student studying Special Needs education. She loves to swim and walk on the track and is active in her school, her local Special Olympics organization, and her local Lions Club. Kassie believes Kingsley will give her an opportunity to teach the public about what service dogs are capable of doing. She seems him as an “ambassador” in representing the service dog community and educating the public, all while keeping her safe and active.

Congratulations to Kingsley’s puppy raisers, Cecilia & Lori Nutting.

Kevin & Aura

Kevin & Aura

Kevin & Aura

Like several of his classmates, Kevin is no stranger to Guiding Eyes, and returned this April for his fifth guide dog, yellow Lab Aura, who he describes as “always happy” but “serious when it’s time to work.” Upon returning home to Illinois, Kevin looks forward to introducing Aura to his previous guide Nugent, who is now enjoying his retirement as Kevin’s family pet.

What keeps bringing him back? The “quality of the dogs, great trainers, and top-notch school.” And despite not being new to working with a guide dog, Kevin notes that every time he returns, he learns new techniques and skills. “It just seems to get better and better each time,” he says of Guiding Eyes.

Before working with a guide dog, Kevin used a white cane, and found it made him reluctant to explore places he wasn’t familiar with. He recalls a new sense of freedom once he received his first guide dog and, for the first time ever, went to the mall by himself knowing he would be able to safely navigate around people and obstacles.

Kevin, who lost his vision due to retinopathy of prematurity, works in sales and membership enrollment for a non-profit and spends his spare time reading, watching sports, and exploring new technology. He is married and father to one son, a 21-year-old college student.

Congratulations to Aura’s puppy raiser, Jack Ficcardi.

Miriam & Illa

Miriam & Illa

Miriam & Illa

“That’s a beautiful dog.” Miriam loves when those words spark up a conversation, now that she has her first guide dog, yellow Lab Illa. Previously working with a cane, Miriam felt she stood out, couldn’t walk as fast as she’d like, and struggled to fit in. Now with her guide dog, she notices that people engage her in conversation, and she walks down the street with her head up, feeling a new sense of freedom. In her three weeks at Guiding Eyes, she says with tears of happiness, she has “smiled so much.”

Born in Chicago and blind since birth, Miriam currently lives in California and is a teaching assistant for English as a second language courses. She learned Spanish from an early age from her grandmother, loves to read, loves to sing, and is currently taking private voice lessons.

Miriam came to Guiding Eyes on the recommendation of a fellow graduate. She says the school has been “great all along. The class dynamic is great, I’ve made new friends, and the food is awesome!”  Of Illa, she says she “loves to work” and will help her feel more willing and motivated to travel anywhere she’d like in the future.

Congratulations to Illa’s puppy raisers, Mr. Owen Walsh, Megan R. Chapin, Donna M. Derks, and Paul & Cindy Swift.

Nancy & Hyde

Nancy & Hyde

Nancy & Hyde

Nancy, who calls Minnesota home, will return with her first guide dog Hyde, introducing him to her spouse, two children, and two granddaughters. She lost her sight in the 1980s due to the retinitis pigmentosa and has little remaining vision, but looks forward to working with her “beautiful” new companion.

Now retired, Nancy worked for 25 years for a funeral home, handling planning and other administrative duties. Today, she enjoys spending her time doing craft projects.

Of Guiding Eyes, Nancy says she would recommend it to anyone: “It’s fabulous here, and everyone is so caring!” She has been happy to get to know Hyde, and says: “I love his pace, his presence. He is a heavenly dog.”

Congratulations to Hyde’s puppy raisers, Megan and Zachary St. Jean.

Shelly & Rusty

Shelly & Rusty

Shelly & Rusty

Shelly is paired with “Trusty Rusty,” her third guide dog, and first from Guiding Eyes. They’ll head home to Minnesota, where Shelly knows Rusty will help her be “safer and more active, independent and confident.” She notes that Rusty loves to go places – Starbucks, the train, the movies, shops – and is not easily distracted while he’s working.

In addition to her first two canine partners, Shelly, who lost her sight due to a detached retina at birth and is totally blind, previously navigated with a cane. Of that experience, she says: “Having a cane is boring. People don’t tell you how cute it is!”

Shelly learned about Guiding Eyes through friend and chose the school because of the ongoing support and commitment to find homes for released and retired dogs. She loves to read, watch her favorite TV shows, participate in her local Lions Club and local chapter of American Council of the Blind, and generally get “out and about.” Shelly looks forward to introducing her neighbors to Rusty and introducing her parents to their “new granddog.”

Congratulations to Rusty’s puppy raisers, Becky & Steven Chamberlain.

Jill & Quantum

Jill lost her vision due to optic nerve damage, leaving her with limited contrast and light perception. But that hasn’t stopped her from enjoying retirement – after a 27-year career as a massage therapist, she is reveling in the freedom it has brought her. With Quantum, her fourth Guiding Eyes guide dog, by her side, Jill looks forward to having more time to enjoy the things she loves: going on walks, spending time with her family and friends, trying new restaurants, traveling, and going to concerts.

Quantum, Jill says, is “fast, curious and wants to show me everything!” The two trained together in her Georgia home as part of Guiding Eyes’ home training program, of which she fondly described as fun, extremely thorough and focused on her specific interests, surroundings and lifestyle.

Jill looks forward to her future adventures with Quantum by her side as they continue to venture out and encounter new situations together.

Jessie & Elwood

Having grown up riding horses, Jessie decided in high school that getting a guide dog would be the right choice for her. She has been visually impaired since birth due to Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, but her first Guiding Eyes dog, Otis, helped navigate Jessie through college, graduate school, an internship, and her first job after graduation.

Jessie now holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Management and a master’s degree in Rehabilitation counseling, working as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the state of Vermont. As her career requires traveling often, she couldn’t be more excited to start this new journey with Elwood. “She is always eager to go new places, and that reduces my anxiety. She is silly, cuddy and fun out of the harness, but serious and eager when it is back on.”

Jessie participated in Guiding Eyes’ home training program and says that it was a great experience, touching on all the things that are most important to Jessie and Elwood. She says, laughing, that she and Elwood are very fast, and that their trainer sometimes had trouble keeping pace. Jessie and Elwood are off and running into this next chapter of their lives!

Aaron and Thomas before heading out to run the marathon
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