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August 2012 Graduating Class

Our August graduation ceremony was sponsored by Emily Bernstein.

Our Graduates:
Peter Altschul & Heath
Robert Ash & Tyler
Jamie Berger & Katerina
Michael Blais & Gidget
Nicole & Natasha
Lupita Cordero & Kimball
Erika Garcia & Helen
Sarah Patel & Sharon
Irma Ramirez & Kyra
David Toro & Dean
Leol Williams & Hermie

Home Training Graduates:
Steven Famiglietti & Joel
Rebecca Sabo & Hakia

Many thanks to our instructors:
Miranda Beckmann, Class Supervisor
Graham Buck, ACTION Instructor
Jolene Hollister, Support Instructor
Megan Crowley, Class Instructor
Andrea Martine, Special Needs Instructor
Kathy Rooney, Home Training Field Representative
Julie Angle, Special Needs Home Training Instructor
Kate Messemer, Instructor Assistant


Peter Altschul and Heath
Peter was matched with black Labrador Heath – his sixth guide dog from Guiding Eyes.  Peter was born blind.  His mother worked tirelessly to get him into the public school system in order to give him a normal childhood and equal opportunities. Her efforts proved worthwhile as Peter continued to succeed and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in music from Princeton University.  His success did not stop there; he found his professional niche on Wall Street and continued his education at Columbia University where he earned his masters in social work.  He specialized in organizational psychology and today he helps organizations function more effectively through mission development.

Peter was content and settled as an “urban bachelor” until five years ago when he met his amazing wife, Lisa.  Now 55, he is happily married and lives in Missouri with his wife, three stepchildren, three standard poodles and a python named “Monty.” He loves music and drums and composes as a hobby. Walking with his guide dog is a pleasure and he is looking forward to embarking on new journeys with Heath. Peter hopes his recently published book, ‘Breaking Barriers: Working and Loving While Blind’ will convey the message of relationship building. He shares, “If you want to build relationships with people to accomplish goals, focus on their strengths.” Learn more about Peter at

Congratulations to the Bruscini Family of the Eastern Connecticut region and Siobhan de Courcy of the Dominion region.

Robert Ash and Tyler
49-year-old Robert comes to Guiding Eyes from Missouri for his first guide dog, a male yellow Labrador named Tyler.

Robert is the only person in his family to have contracted retinitis pigmentosa. He is married with a stepson and enjoyed a career as a cross country truck driver until his sight deteriorated too much to continue. Driving is still in his blood and he enjoys racing remote control cars and accompanies his minister to Lucas Oil Raceway.  Robert is experienced using a cane but working with Tyler brings him a renewed independence. Together they easily maneuver around obstacles and he is continually surprised by the number of times Tyler keeps him from walking into something. The biggest change is the freedom to go places when he wants to – no longer having to wait for someone to come home.

Congratulations to Lynne Post of the Virginia Beach region and Alicia Page & Family of the Central Connecticut region.


Jamie Berger and Katerina
Connecticut resident Jamie Berger was matched with Katerina, a female yellow Labrador and her first guide dog.

Jamie was born without pigment in her eyes; she’s had transplants from two donors, giving her long distance vision in one eye and close distance in the other.  At home in Connecticut, Jamie works in the cafeteria of the local university and enjoys spending time outdoors in her free time.  The excitement of having Katerina radiates from Jamie.

At graduation, Jamie shared her thoughts with the guests:
“I am 27 years old and up until now, I had to experience the world through other people’s eyes. I could never be independent because it wasn’t safe for me to go out on my own. On August 1, I met Katerina – and it was the happiest day of my life. It is a miracle to have a best friend who loves me and keeps me safe, while allowing me to experience life on my own. Okay Katerina – let’s start living.”

Congratulations to Ellen Wixted of the Fingerlakes region.


Michael Blais and Gidget
Michael was matched with his first guide dog – a female yellow Labrador named Gidget. The team will return to Maine where Michael’s wife, three daughters and seven grandchildren anxiously await their arrival.

Michael is 58 years old and owned a plumbing and heating business until he had to undergo bypass surgery. The surgery was successful and Michael awoke after it was over to see his family by his side. Unfortunately, a stroke later that night paralyzed his left side and took his vision.

Getting a guide dog has motivated Michael to become more active and get out on his own. He loves going into town by bus, formerly a difficult process as his rural hometown has no sidewalks and the nearest neighbor is half a mile away.  Gidget will surely enjoy accompanying Michael when he appears and competes as a clown, his greatest passion in life.  He came in first place in New England and second place in the United States for his expert clown makeup skills.

Congratulations to the Puglisi Family of the Prince William region and Morgan Cooper of the Central NY region.


Nicole and Natasha
Nicole was matched with Natasha, a female yellow Labrador.  She was born totally blind due to bilateral retina detachment and graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelors degree in English.  She likes to work with children and her passion is teaching.

Natasha is going to radically change Nicole’s life.  Before being matched with her guide dog, Nicole often waited through five traffic cycles before crossing the street, never feeling confident enough to cross.  With Natasha, she is already safely across the street before she even has time to think about it. She looks forward to increased independence and social interaction and feels that many new doors are being opened to her already.

At graduation, Nicole shared these words to the audience of donors, volunteers and friends:

“Natasha is a companion – an obedient, loyal one who is well-suited to her title of man’s best friend.  She is always by my side, guiding me around obstacles as a cane never did.  Of course, Natasha spices up this routine by being adorable, which provides many conversational opportunities. I can already see that Natasha is exponentially better at helping me travel safely and efficiently than a cane ever was.   Words cannot say how much the more efficient travel means to me.
As I prepare to retire my cane and instead take up the harness, ready for an enriching life of guide-work and increased opportunities with Natasha, please know that you have changed my life, and the lives of every student graduating.”

Congratulations to Elizabeth Closmore of the New York City region and Swapan & Visa Chatterjee of the New York City region.


Sister Lupita Marie Cordero and Kimball
Sister Lupita Marie of the School Sisters of Notre Dame will return home to Illinois with her second guide dog Kimball, a male yellow Labrador.

Sister Lupita, now 68, has experienced gradual sight loss throughout her life as a result of retinitis pigmentosa.  It has been two years since she retired her last dog.  She’s missed the loving companionship of having a guide dog, and walking alone has become increasingly scary as her vision deteriorates.

Sister Lupita wanted a dog trained to travel in a big city and on all forms of transportation.  She finds dedication in all of the staff at Guiding Eyes and shares, “The instructors strive for excellence in a way that helps students do their best.  They really care about both the dog and the student.”  As an ESL teacher, Sister Lupita can certainly relate.  “Teaching is very rewarding.  Empowering my students to achieve their goals is an amazing feeling.”

Congratulations to the Prian Family of the Dominion region and Carol Buchanan of the New Hampshire region.


Erika Garcia and Helen
Erika traveled from California for Helen, a yellow Labrador and her first guide dog.

Erika is a 20-year-old college student and lives with vision and hearing loss.  She was born with a form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma, causing her to lose her sight midway through kindergarten.  At 13, she started experiencing hearing loss and was almost totally deaf by the time she was 14 years old.  Erika loves to workout, play sports and cycle long distances. She is also learning to play guitar.

Traveling was a challenge, and Erika would often take multiple bus routes to avoid street crossings.  Guiding Eyes’ Special Needs Program was a good choice in helping her prepare for her future.  Erika describes her first meeting with Helen, sharing “I felt like they were handing me my child. She adapted very well, never whined and started jumping on me and wrestling together. I see life from a different angle with my guide dog.”

Congratulations to Diane Stetson of the Northern Connecticut region.


Sarah Patel and Sharon
Sarah is a 19 year old college sophomore. She returns to school in Wisconsin with her first guide dog, Sharon, a black Labrador.

Sarah was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of three and retains some peripheral light perception.  She is a student at Marquette University where she is majoring in public relations and philosophy.  When she isn’t studying, Sarah enjoys playing drums, listening to books and crocheting.  She’s an only child and spends summers and school breaks at home with her family.

Sarah’s time at Guiding Eyes was her first experience with other blind students and felt like somewhat of a culture shock.   She has found comfort in the unfamiliar – remarking that it is nice to have others around who understand what you’re going through.  Meeting Sharon was a unique experience since she had never even had a pet before. Now she says, “It’s only been ten days but if I didn’t have her, it would be weird. It is a big commitment and I worried if I would be up to the task, but Sharon helps me so much that it is worth it. She’s feisty and spunky and we continue to work better together every day.”

Congratulations to Eric Silverman of the Montgomery region and Dee & Cooper Lane of the Prince William region.


Irma Ramirez and Kyra
Texas resident Irma Ramirez was matched with Kyra, a female Golden retriever.

At forty three years old, Irma was married with four children and working as a data entry clerk when suddenly she could no longer see her computer.  She was diagnosed with Ushers Syndrome and her life changed overnight.  She came to Guiding Eyes in 1997 for her first dog, and also the first guide dog in her town. “Guiding Eyes gave me the freedom to grow and move forward,” she shares.  Irma holds an Associates Degree in business and currently works at Jimmy Carter Early College High School as a coordinator between staff and Spanish speaking families.  Her guide dogs have enabled her to get back on her feet and resume her previously active lifestyle.  Kyra is her first female guide dog and they bonded immediately. She praises her often, with “good job girlfriend” being her favorite phrase.  Her children have always been her biggest supporters and they are all excited to meet Kyra.

Congratulations to Diane Ende of the Erie region.


David Toro and Dean
David will head back home to Maryland with male German Shepherd, Dean.

David’s vision loss is caused by Coats’ Disease.  He’s wanted a guide dog since he was 11 and first saw other blind people using them for travel.   When he turned 16, he promptly applied to Guiding Eyes and was ecstatic to find out he had been accepted.  A weightlifter and wrestler for his high school team, David will enter his junior year just two days after completing his training at Guiding Eyes.  He is an avid reader, plays guitar, and enjoys walking, swimming and diving.  He was excited to learn he was getting a German Shepherd and Dean is quite a character.  He is very well behaved and was just as excited as David when they were introduced. The inseparable pair are always playing games together – Dean will many times move his water bowl and hide things under the bed.  David is looking forward to the increased mobility and speed that Dean will bring him in their future together.

Congratulations to the Caamano Family for the North Carolina region.


Leol Williams and Hermie
New Yorker Leol Williams was matched with yellow Lab Hermie.  He is 54 and grew up in a busy home with seven brothers and sisters.  Leol’s vision loss is a result of glaucoma.  He worked as a piano turner before receiving his associate’s degree in marketing/management and sales.  He loves travel, and his efforts are now focused on building a new business for people who like to travel but don’t have the luxury of a companion.  (More info on Leol’s business at  He also enjoys playing sports, participating in marathons and triathlons, and composing music.  Guide dog Hermie reminds him of his first dog with his smooth movements, attentive nature and knowledgable disposition.

Congratulations to Linda DePuy of the Monroe region.