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December 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on December 6

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Chris Chapman and Fellow

A Chance Encounter Leads to a New Life

First-time Guiding Eyes student Chris Chapman, 43, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and declared legally blind 19 years ago. She chose Guiding Eyes through the recommendation of Stacia, a recent Guiding Eyes graduate she met at a women’s conference; Stacia described Guiding Eyes as “the very best school in the world.” Chris resides in South Carolina with her 24-year old daughter Tiffany and 21-year old son PJ. She works in a retail shop that features fine jewelry. Chris loves to bake, and her husband Joey shares her wares with his colleagues at work. Chris also enjoys socializing with her best friend and is actively involved in church. Her first Guiding Eyes dog is Fellow, who is mellow, curious, nosey, friendly, outgoing and a great worker. Chris happily anticipates that he will enable her to enjoy a life of new independence and freedom. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she says, “Stacia was absolutely right. This is a wonderful place. I absolutely love it here; it’s just like home.”

Vicki Keatting and Erica

Dually Disabled Student Returns for Third Dog

Vicki Keatting, of Kentucky, returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her third dog, Erica. Born with Ushers Syndrome, Vicki lost her sight at age 16 and 11 years later experienced impaired hearing. Vicki studied to become a medical transcriptionist and ultimately found a career as a massage therapist. Today she is a stay-at-home mom for her two children, ages seven and ten. She has been married 13 years to her high school history classmate, and greatly enjoys spending time with her family. Her new dog Erica is a good worker, playful and funny – and during training led Vicki into expensive shops at the mall. Vicki states, “Guiding Eyes for the Blind has expanded, improved and modernized the campus facilities; however, the all-important atmosphere and training are the same as always: innovative, welcoming, cheerful, encouraging and effective – within which a spirit of excellence is faithfully maintained.”

Patrick Lyman and Simon

Retired Teacher Returns for Second Dog

Patrick Lynam, 56, came from Delaware to partner with Simon, his second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was 18, Pat graduated from the University of Delaware and then spent 29 years as a public school elementary special education teacher. He recently retired, and offers that he misses the teaching, but not the “headaches.” Pat comes from a large family of 12 siblings whom he sees once a week. He loves to walk, do odd jobs around the house, and is learning to play golf. Pat enjoys Simon’s kisses and happy puppy side when at play, but points out that he is an easy-going companion and excellent worker when in harness. Without a guide dog since June, Pat looks forward to reclaiming his independence and confidence in moving about freely with Simon. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Pat strongly asserts: “This is more of a family than an organization: that’s what makes it so successful.”

Alton Maye and Maverick

Victim of Violence Regains Independence with First Dog

“Five years ago, I was beaten up … and every bone in my face was broken; my eyes were destroyed.” This is the story of how Alton Maye became blind. The bones in Alton’s face were destroyed, but not his spirit. He was advised to come to Guiding Eyes by his local coordinator for the visually impaired. After three years of college, Alton built a career working with air conditioning, heating, welding and auto mechanics. He now balances a new job search with walking, visiting friends, repairing things, caring for his apartment, and using his computer. His first Guiding Eyes dog Maverick is playful and affectionate, and also respectful and obedient to Alton’s needs. Alton’s experiences as a first-time Guiding Eyes student is “beyond words” – he particularly appreciates the staff’s concerns, attention, respect, dependability, advice and loving care for each of the students. “They are truly unbelievable.”

Kathy Nimmer and Elias

Teacher and Poet Finds Promise in Each New Step

Kathy Nimmer, 38, lost her sight gradually over sixteen years due to a rare retinal degeneration. She came to us for her third guide dog, but her first from Guiding Eyes. Kathy teaches high school English and creative writing in a public school in Indiana. Her success in the classroom has come from sixteen years of working hard to energize, inspire, and enlighten her nearly 150 sighted students each semester. Kathy is also a writer, having published a book of poetry in 2006 called Minutes in the Dark, Eternity in the Light. She enjoys motivational speaking, playing the piano, writing her school’s newsletter, and reading mysteries. “Guiding Eyes has been such a blessing after my first dog died in January and my second retired after only one year in June due to medical issues,” Kathy states. ”Elias is a gentle reminder that there is hope and promise with each new step in this life.”

Jessica Pitzer and Padgett

Teenager Finds New Friend and Guide

Guiding Eyes for the Blind was recommended to Jessica Pitzer as a “user friendly” school, just the right words to lead the 17-year-old to travel from Virginia for her first guide dog, Padgett. Jessica had 81 surgeries for glaucoma and aniridia by age 11, which ultimately resulted in the removal of both her eyes. Jessica’s ambition is to be an English teacher. She is an avid computer user, and is fondly referred to by her friends as a “walking computer.” She loves to read (Harry Potter books are her favorites), create web pages, cook and do crafts. She and her fiancé plan to be married on February 18th, 2008. Padgett, like Jessica, is a happy dog, a serious worker, and extremely social, offering a paw as her way of saying “hello.” Jessica fully expects that Padgett will expand the horizons of her life by giving her companionship, freedom and the confidence to go out more. Jessica’s first-time assessment of Guiding Eyes for the Blind is “Wonderful, just like a family, supportive; the food is great, the facilities are spectacular.”

Lenny Richardson and Oscar

Local Accident Victim Returns for Second Dog

Leonard Richardson, lost his sight at the age of 27 as the result of an accident and returned to Guiding Eyes for his second guide dog, Oscar. It’s not a long trip for him to get here as he lives less than ten miles from the Yorktown Heights training center. His initial decision to enroll was based on the advice of a graduate and his mobility instructor. He has been married for five years to Marella, a high school physical education teacher who also coaches track and field. Lenny is a “gadget junky,” and loves to walk and shop. His new dog Oscar devours attention, is a real tail-wagger and loves to snuggle, but readily assumes his position as a guide, leading with confidence and precision. Lenny smiled as he stated, “Now, I can just pick up and go. I give my unqualified recommendation of excellence to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. They have changed my life forever.”

Suzanne Rountree and Becky

Horse Trainer and Rider Receives Third Dog

Suzanne Rountree, 38, returns to Guiding Eyes for her third dog, a yellow Lab named Becky. Suzanne lost her vision at the age of fifteen from a brain tumor that developed suddenly during her freshman year of high school. She has been employed for 13 years as a medical transcriptionist. She has trained many of the other blind employees at the company where she works. For enjoyment, Suzanne rides and trains quarter horses. She shows them in small local circuits in Missouri, where she lives. ”Handling a guide dog has many similarities to working with my horses,” Suzanne says. ”Both make me feel independent and strong.” Becky, who is happy and has an intense work commitment, will accompany Suzanne in all of her endeavors.

Holly Thorin and JD

First Dog Grants New Found Freedom and Independence

Holly Thorin came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Minnesota to receive her first guide dog, J D. Holly’s visual impairment was caused by retinal dystrophy, a hereditary condition. After “way too many years,” she carefully considered and then grabbed the opportunity to make a complete change in her lifestyle to one of more freedom, independence and happy companionship. She had read and heard great recommendations about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, talked to our admissions staff on the phone, and decided to apply. That decision, she says, is probably the “best one I’ve ever made.” A trauma nurse for six years, Holly currently enjoys practicing ballet and yoga and walks each day. “My mantra,” she says, “is to live in the moment.” JD is playful and affectionate, loves to work and performs with diligence. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind,” Holly says, “has changed my life entirely. I will be free and enjoy uncompromising companionship. This is a ‘safe place’ where I am being trained to live my life to the fullest – with JD.”

Kimberly Thurman and Kinsey

A Wedding Anniversary Gift for Returning Student

Kim Thurman, 43, and her husband celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary year with the arrival of Kinsey, Kim’s second guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Born with retinitis pigmentosa, Kim’s visual impairment worsened when she was in her teens. She worked as a medical transcriptionist for twelve years, and hopes to return to this career soon. In the meantime she enjoys reading, surfing the internet, running, walking and baby-sitting with her 21-month old granddaughter. Kinsey is playful and rambunctious, but is calm and collected when in harness. Without a guide dog for two very long months, Kim looks forward to getting off the treadmill for exercise to do some real outdoor walking. Describing Guiding Eyes for the Blind as “an intricately woven system that works,” Kim further stated that “there is no stone left unturned in the training of each individual from beginning to end.”