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August 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on August 18.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Kathy Arnold and Frannie

Six Guiding Eyes Dog and Every One, a Perfect Match

Kathy Arnold of Kentucky came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind seventeen years ago upon the advice of a friend from the Kentucky School for the Blind. Thirty-five years later, she returned for Frannie, her sixth Guiding Eyes dog. Kathy has been blind since birth, having been born with retinitis of prematurity. After being employed as a Customer Service Representative for Human Services, Kathy married and settled into a life of homemaking. She is a talented musician, and plays the guitar, dulcimer and piano, and along with her husband, spreads the gospel through song in local retirement and nursing homes, folk festivals, churches and hospitals. Together, they have made one CD titled, Old Time Gospel Favorites. Kathy likes to walk, read, visit friends and shop. She is outgoing, compassionate and friendly and loves to have fun, but her priorities lie with her faith, “My relationship with Jesus Christ is most important of all.” Her new Guiding Eyes dog Frannie is an affectionate dog that is very serious about her work; Kathy predicts she will be of inestimable value in helping her to safely navigate. Speaking of her years of experience with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Kathy truly believes that the staff goes out of its way to ensure the perfect match between student and dog. She notes, “I love the individualized training, the caring staff, and of course the new dorm rooms that now provide all the creature comforts of home.”

Dessica Baros and Junior

A New Dog for a Newlywed

Illinois is the home of 31-year-old Dessica Baros, who came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to meet Junior, her first guide dog. Dessica has been blind since 2005 as the result of a brain tumor, and chose Guiding Eyes upon the advice of her rehab counselor. Formerly a travel agent, last year Dessica happily exchanged her business career for a wedding ring and homemaking – and at the same time, acquired a wonderful eight-year-old stepdaughter. First on her list of “favorite people and things” are her husband and family; but playing cards, walking, tubing and cooking all play an important part in her life. Dessica’s ear-to-ear smile reflects her happy-go-lucky, truthful and somewhat playful demeanor. Guiding Eyes dog Junior is a lover, and playful as well; but when on the job, he maintains a fast pace and is a hard worker. “Ours is a match made in heaven. Junior will give me the freedom to move about and will also be my best friend.” In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Dessica, exuberantly lauds the staff’s generous spirit, open heartedness and willingness to give in every respect, and describes them as phenomenal.

Bob Bliss and Toma

A First Guiding Eyes Dog for a Retired Father

Bob Bliss hails from Massachusetts. He came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first guide dog, Toma, upon the recommendation of a graduate who was Bob’s mobility-training buddy. Bob lost his sight as a result of retinitis pigmentosa 40 years ago. He retired from the New England Telephone Company in 1991 and today enjoys a busy life in retirement. In 1997 he and his wife adopted a little girl, Elisabeth, from China; now 12, she continues to fill their lives with joy. Bob still drives a tractor to mow his lawn and describes himself as an upbeat guy who seeks to brighten everyone’s day. Bob feels that Toma’s affectionate and obedient nature will help him to do just that. It is a completely new experience for him to put his trust and faith in a dog after so many years of finding his own way. “My experience here at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, is that they can’t do enough for you they are always in a giving mode. My challenge throughout training is to maintain a willingness to understand, change and adapt.”

Frank Brucato and Hansel

A Canine Treasure for a Treasure Hunter

Forty-five-year-old Frank Brucato, from Massachusetts, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Hansel, his third guide dog. Born with retinopathy of prematurity, Frank lost his sight gradually; somewhat later, his sight further deteriorated because of diabetes. Frank was a communications major at Fordham University, and today serves as “secretary on call” for Provincetown’s various boards and counsels. Frank’s favorite activities include playing darts, doing jigsaw puzzles and surfing the Internet. He also enjoys using a metal detector to search Cape Cod’s beaches for buried objects; in Hawaii he once found a watch valued at $75. Frank considers himself a “one-pot connoisseur,” making tasty soups and stews (the hotter, the better). Hansel, a large German shepherd, seems to understand Frank well: “We are always on the ‘same page;’ when working, he is an excellent leader, but he’s affectionate and likes to snuggle as well.” Hansel has already become aware of Frank’s changes in pace. “This is a very special dog to me; Guiding Eyes knew what I needed; I am grateful and simply overwhelmed.”

Rachelle Cotugno and Oriole

Musician Hits the Right Note with Third Guiding Eyes Dog

Rachelle Cotugno entered this world as a one pound, eleven ounce baby. Blind since birth, she came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her third dog, Oriole. Rachelle is a musician with graduate certification in liturgical music and has recorded four albums. She plays guitar, keyboard, clarinet and recorder, and is a music teacher for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and chorus at St. Mary’s Institute in New York. She also teaches and works weekends in local churches, and walks to and from work every day. Rachelle is a Braillist, reads books and enjoys traveling in the U.S. and abroad. She describes Oriole as “a very gentle black Lab that is affectionate and has strong dependable leadership qualities. Just like people, each dog has their very own personality; I love the sweetness that Oriole has brought into my life. I have profound respect for the training at Guiding Eyes and never cease to wonder at the quality of the dogs. Here I have received ‘eyes’ and love. I truly believe that God is actually here reaching out to help others.”

Elodie Driscoll and Padgett

Just the Right Chemistry

Elodie Driscoll, a 64-year old widow from New Jersey, came to Guiding Eyes for her first dog, Padgett. Atrophy of the optic nerve and retina set in after Elodie’s 2004 cataract surgery. Her concerned sister-in-law urged her to apply for a guide dog, and proceeded to begin application procedures at various schools. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the first school to respond and was the most receptive to Elodie’s application. A graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson College in New Jersey, followed by graduate work at the National Science Foundation/University of Pennsylvania, Elodie was a highly respected chemistry teacher for New York State Regents, Honors and Advanced Placement courses in Spring Valley High School, NY. She took up embroidery and photography as hobbies upon her retirement in 1988. Now, because of her failing vision, she reads at the library and has built up the strength for a daily two-mile walking regimen. Elodie is happy with Padgett, as they have similar personalities; both are low-key and calm, and forthright in their determination and work. She anticipates that Padgett will help and encourage her to get out more. Guiding Eyes tailored a program specifically for Elodie’s needs, using a “shoreline” technique that taught her to safely navigate paths and country roads. “I feel that a new life is about to open up for me. Thank you, Guiding Eyes for the Blind.”

Sheila Dunn and Nari

Retired Nurse Regains Her Independence

Sheila Dunn is a former New Yorker who is ecstatic with her move to North Carolina. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first guide dog, Nari. Sheila displays a zest for life that is truly infectious. She was a highly respected practicing registered nurse and instructor for 25 years in Nyack, New York, until her sight diminished slowly as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, forcing her to retire in 1998 from the career she cherished. Sheila is married, has four children and five grandchildren. She gets tremendous joy from devouring talking books and CDs, attending her church’s support group, and participating in yoga and water aerobics at the Senior Center. At the end of a busy day, she enjoys coming home to cook dinner. Sheila, who is calm, does not worry needlessly and is not easily excitable, is happy that Nari, although playful, is an affectionate, even-tempered and trustworthy leader. “I could never have asked for a better dog. Nari will give me so much more freedom and independence. I will now be able to go out and do things on my own.”

Mike Foye and Guiness

Community Volunteer Brings Third Dog Home to Florida

Mike Foye, a former foreign service officer, returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Florida to receive his third dog, Guiness. Mike lost his sight when he suffered two strokes, the first of which occurred when he was 40. Mike came to Guiding Eyes at the suggestion of a former graduate. He has been married for 28 years and is a valued member of his community: he has commandeered the local Elks Lodge, volunteers as an overseer of the City Budget Committee and is presently rewriting the City Charter. He says that his emails sometimes run between two or three hundred per day. Mike’s outgoing, confident personality makes him an excellent storyteller. Mike appreciates Guiness’ firm stride, and that nothing fazes his new dog. “I’ll never have to wonder where he’s taking me.” Before coming to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Mike did thorough research on other schools, and found Guiding Eyes to be by far the best. “It is the most dedicated to its students; I would never go elsewhere.”

Darlene Hawxhurst and Lab

A Woman with Multiple Degrees and Talents

Darlene Hawxhurst’s life changed for the better when she met a Guiding Eyes graduate at a conference. Darlene wanted to be more independent and wanted to be able to travel more efficiently; in August she took home her third Guiding Eyes Dog. She is a resident of New York and has been blind since birth due to undeveloped optic nerves. Darlene has multiple degrees in liberal arts, science, education, social studies, social services and early childhood education; she also is a certified dog groomer, and a Reiki practitioner. Darlene volunteers for The Order of Moose, is an American Legion Lioness and generously uses her education to benefit others. Her recreational interests are yoga, swimming, reading, TV and playing computer games. Darlene shares her home with her retired dog and two cats. She has already found that her new Guiding Eyes dog is adaptable, flexible and responsive to gentle encouragement; she will fit right in with her new “roomies.” “I think the fact that I returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for my third dog, speaks for itself. This class is wonderful. We are a close-knit group and as always, the training and accommodations are superb.”

Becky Knaub and Mori

Dog Saves Her Life

Becky Knaub, of Pennsylvania, returned to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, Mori. Becky’s vision was impaired at birth by septo optic dysplasia. When she was five years old, Becky met a Guiding Eyes dog, and determined that she wanted one too but knew she would have to wait until she was older. Becky, now 24 and a student at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, has less than two years before she graduates, after which she hopes to become an instructor of adaptive technology. Becky’s favorite activities include reading, singing, watching StarTrek, swimming, walking and socializing with her friends. She presently lives at home with her family. She found Mori to be a great match, with his loving, gentle, obedient and a cooperative demeanor. Becky’s former Guiding Eyes dog saved her from being struck by a car while she was in a walkway; he took the impact himself. The dog, traumatized by the event, retired with his puppy raiser. Is it any wonder that Becky feels that Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a “super special place?” Her childhood dream became become a life-saving reality.

Justyce Martyn and Eve

From Darkness into Light

That is how Justyce Martyn describes her life now: a dramatic transition from where she was three years ago, when glaucoma claimed her sight. The 48-year old New Yorker felt that her life was over; how would she cope? Justyce searched the Internet for a solution and discovered Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She applied, was accepted and now has embarked on a new adventure with her dog, Eve, whose name signifies “a new beginning.” Justyce, who has always enjoyed working with children, walking, jogging, reading and writing poems, is a volunteer speaker for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and attends Hunter College, where she is studying for her masters in social work. Justyce has found Eve to be a perfect match for her own personality and can be heard frequently reminding her: “You are mama’s girl!” She also noted that just touching Eve is quieting and reassuring. Justyce is so thankful that her life, now void of her former fears and lack of confidence, contains endless possibilities. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is as professional and excellent an organization as one can envision they have turned the light on for me.”

Mark Montgomery and Theodore

Back For His Fifth Dog

Mark Montgomery was born with retinal blastoma and by the time he was 2 years old completely lost his sight. He was referred to Guiding Eyes for the Blind while in high school by his mobility instructor and traveled from upstate New York for his first guide dog. He then pursued a law degree at the University of Buffalo, and is currently working on his masters in special education. With tongue in cheek, Mark said that five years ago, he married his wife whom he had met on a “blind date.” He has now returned to Guiding Eyes to receive Theodore, his fifth Guiding Eyes dog. Mark’s favorite activities include reading, watching hockey and football, conducting research on the Internet, walking and cross country skiing. A quiet, studious and intense person, Mark feels that Theodore’s happy-go-lucky, affectionate and alert personality will serve him well, both physically and emotionally. Mark’s Guiding Eyes dogs have allowed him to enjoy 22 years of active and pleasure-filled living, security and freedom. He praises Guiding Eyes for the Blind for its wisdom, consistently excellent training, and the loving care given so freely to each student.

Steve Sopel and Elmer

A Childhood Dream Brings Dividends

Steve Sopel, from Maryland, lost his peripheral vision at age 9 due to a brain tumor. As a teenager, he dreamt of visiting Manhattan to view the Statue of Liberty and thought that if he applied to Guiding Eyes, he might have the opportunity to see the famous landmark; his dream indeed became a reality. Steve, now 27, returned to Guiding Eyes to receive his second dog, Elmer. He holds an associates degree in Criminal Justice, currently attends Harford College, and works in the community mediation field. He aspires to be a 911 dispatcher. Steve enjoys shopping and doing Internet research. He records his daily memories and thoughts on paper, shoots pool, and bowls (196 high, 111 average). He is an avid talker, likes to socialize and has a positive spirit about life. Elmer is playful and bonded easily with Steve. He will join Steve’s retired dog, Tobin, at home in BelAir. Recognizing that no dog is exactly the same, Steve is confident that Elmer will live up to his predecessor’s ability to enable him to continue his independent lifestyle, wherever that should take him. “This is a terrific school, friendly and warm. When I returned here, I felt as though I had come home “

Joseph Tartaglia and Jingles

A Third Dog for Big Apple Resident

Joseph Tartaglia returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his third dog, Jingles. He is a New York resident who enjoys life in the “big town.” Joe’s educational background in psychology, coupled with a bright, resourceful and determined mindset, enabled him to have a successful career as a teacher of the disabled. Joe’s sight loss was caused by a brain tumor 35 years ago. He is now making the most of retirement, and is engaged in many occupational and recreational activities. An avid believer in the daily exercise of body and mind, Joe balances his days with walking, reading and socializing; he also has two teenage sons who share in his life. Joe boasts of having a broad, comprehensive span of interests and activities that yield special meaning to each day. He describes himself as being “compliant, but vociferous when it comes to airing my views,” and his wry sense of humor can be disarming. Joe has been emotionally and physically invested in each one of his Guiding Eyes dogs and kept each one following their retirements. Jingles will be a valuable asset to Joe as he travels about Manhattan and elsewhere. “I am most sincerely grateful to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for showing me the way to enjoy a full and productive life. There is no other school like this. . . anywhere.”

Raychelle Thomas and Thomas

A Dream Come True

Raychelle Thomas, of North Carolina, came to Guiding Eyes for her first dog, Thomas. Raychelle, age 38, has no peripheral vision due to a cerebral tumor which precipitated the onset of retinitis pigmentosa in May 2006. She has been married 15 years, has four children (ages 15-22) and one stepdaughter. Raychelle was a registered nurse specializing in pediatrics home care for patients with genetic disorders, and she never missed a day of work. Raychelle has an extraordinary number of hobbies and volunteer commitments. She roller skates, modern dances, volunteers at school as a classroom helper, knows Braille and Spanish, reads, and is president of the local Blind and Visually Impaired chapter. She is known as the “cookie lady” because of the treats she bakes and distributes, but still managed to lose 100 pounds during the last three years. Raychelle is particularly happy that she no longer will hear her children say, “Watch Mama,” now that she’ll have Thomas at her side. Raychelle has high praise to Guiding Eyes: “It’s not just a school; it is a total educational institution for the blind that features the latest technologies and all the comforts of home. It can’t get any better than that.”