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December 2008 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated in December 2008.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Angel Adorno and Edward

Time without a dog was like being “Rip Van Winkle”

New York native Angel Adorno lost his sight at the age of 19, the result of a corneal rupture and retina degeneration. Angel returned to Guiding Eyes for his fifth guide dog, Edward, having retired his black Lab guide Samson, who served him diligently for eleven years. Angel initially came to the school after observing how his blind colleagues, who had Guiding Eyes dogs, enjoyed fulfilling and successful lives.

Angel has been married to Cheryl for almost eight years, and has an Associates degree in Business and Bachelors degrees in Political Science and English. He is employed as a Spanish-English transcriber for the U.S. Department of Immigration. Angel has, for the past nine years, also run his own D.J. business that provides music for parties, weddings, and other occasions. He has 50,000 recordings in his collection and is hoping to develop the business into a full-time operation. Angel describes Edward as “serious, aware, affectionate, focused and a no-nonsense dog.” Angel had been without a guide dog for five months, which he said felt more like 50 years. He compared his time without a guide to the story of Rip Van Winkle, feeling as though he was in a deep sleep and has now awakened to a life of independence and freedom.

Maryann Bartkowski and Taurus

Politically-knowledgeable grandmother returns for second dog

A prematurely-born twin, Maryann Bartkowski is an active, well-educated woman in her 60s who loves life. She came to Guiding Eyes from Illinois for her second guide dog, Taurus. Maryann first chose Guiding Eyes because of her personal observations of our graduates, and that decision, she says, “changed my life.” She is a divorced mother of three, with five grandchildren, and she lives with her younger daughter. She has worked for the Social Security Administration of seventeen years. Maryann is an avid reader of magazines and newspapers and enjoys discussing current events. She also likes to crochet, and admits to constructing imaginative Legos creations. Maryann describes Taurus as having a “sweet spot,” but is nonetheless fearless, focused, deliberate and all business when in harness. Taurus will join Maryann’s retired guide dog at home. She is enthusiastic about her second visit to Guiding Eyes: “It gets better here every day; the instructors are the best, and innovative options have been introduced and administered with a helping hand, a loving heart and of course, a gentle paw.”

Macy Miller and Taz

Music therapist walks to his own beat with Guiding Eyes dog at his side

Macy Miller, 77, is married, a proud father of four and grandfather of seven. He returned to Guiding Eyes for Taz, his second guide dog from the school. Macy lost his sight gradually to macular degeneration and a detached retina. He later lost his sense of balance as the result of a concussion from an auto accident. He retired when he was 59 from a 30-year career as a successful insurance sales manager. Today he uses his talent as a percussionist to provide “unofficial music therapy” for adult Alzheimer patients, retirees, and psychiatric ward patients. During his therapy sessions, each participants is given a bucket and drumsticks with which to follow Macy’s beat. He also incorporates singing and story telling into his program, to which the participants always respond with joyful abandon. Macy has found that hand exercises have a positive affect on his balance, so he benefits at the same time as he works with these challenged individuals. Taz, Macy says, is calm, firm and able to ignore unpredictable distractions in his surroundings. He hopes that Taz’ will tolerate his noisy drumming exercises and performances.

Briley Pollard and Wrangler

Spring 2009 college graduate returns for second dog

Briley Pollard, 22, returned to Guiding Eyes from Tennessee for her second guide dog, Wrangler. Briley has been blind since birth as a result of Lebers congenital amorosis. Her friends, Guiding Eyes alums, recommended Guiding Eyes to her, and once she enrolled, she learned to treasure the small class size.

Briley will graduate in May 2009 from Tennessee’s Belmont College with a major in Commercial Vocal Performance; she plans to use her many talents as a back-up singer or as an assistive technology instructor for the blind. She lists a number of favorite activities that include reading, watching TV, walking, swimming, singing, playing the piano and writing; she is presently working on a literary nonfiction piece about her family.

Wrangler, her new beautiful, sensitive, focused, obedient German Shepherd partner loves to kiss and cuddle with his new partner. Exclaiming, “We were made for each other,” Briley looks forward to regaining her ability to travel independently.

Leo Prazhnik and Pretzel

First time grad now has “Sights on College”

Leo Prazknik grew up in Brooklyn and has the distinction of being the youngest in this month’s class. Born blind 19 years ago as a result of a premature birth, Leo came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first guide dog, Pretzel. Leo first learned about Guiding Eyes from his Braille teacher in elementary school. As he made plans to go to college, he knew that a guide dog would fill a vital role in his life.

Leo has enrolled in the College of Staten Island, a two-year institution, for liberal arts studies, and then we will press on to a four-year school to study education or technology. He enjoys music, hanging out with his friends, listening to radio, and going online. He has already fallen in love with Pretzel who he says, “not only has a unique name, but is a great dog: friendly, obedient, and a serious worker with a keen mind of his own. I know that we will have challenges, but together we have the effective tools to overcome them. I expect Pretzel to change my life and introduce me to new opportunities and adventures.” Continuing, Leo said, “Here I have found insurmountable patience and dedication by the staff. This is the best event of my life.”

Heike Rosenfeldt and Piper

Trip from Germany rewarded with patient, loving dog

Heike Rosenfeldt came from Germany for Piper, her fifth guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Heike jumped at the opportunity to attend Guiding Eyes because of the school’s open door policy for out-of-country residents, as well as the exceptional reputations of its dogs and training. She is divorced and the mother of two sons, the younger of whom is blind. Today, at the age of 53, after suffering two broken hips and a painful knee, Heike’s daily routine includes a plethora of activity starting with an early rise, preparing food for her son, meeting a neighbor at 9 a.m. for a 1 1/2 hour walk, some shopping, preparing a flavorful meal (cheese, a favorite), and taking another long walk. She also enjoys the company of her friends, and attending evening theater productions.

Heike appreciates Piper’s patience, waiting quietly for his instructions, and is glad that this time she chose Guiding Eyes. “The instruction here has been detailed, and presented with heart and patience. I have been supported here from start to finish.”

Patrick Sciannella and Maggie

Professional tuba player teamed with “talkative” fifth dog

Patrick Sciannella, 44, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was nine. He returned to Guiding Eyes for Maggie, his third guide dog from the school. Patrick had observed the successful experience of his sister Gina, who attended class at Guiding Eyes in 1994. Patrick is a professional musician, a renowned tuba player, who holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Eastman School of Music. Since 1989, he and his wife Amy, an Oberlin Conservatory grad, have performed as the “Double Play Flute and Tuba,” a highly respected and sought-after touring ensemble. Their busy music careers have entailed a great deal of travel, much of it far away from their Arizona home. During their down time they read, hike, and promote environmental awareness.

Patrick purports that Maggie actually “talks” to make her wishes known. “Maggie will give me necessary freedom of independent mobility and will serve as an ‘ice breaker’ wherever I go.”

Isaac Valencia and Izzie

Guiding Eyes dog makes a childhood dream come true

Isaac Valencia of Texas was born two months premature, weighing two pounds and having no vision. Today he is a healthy and productive 30-year-old, and trained at Guiding Eyes with Izzie, his first dog from the school. Isaac remembers that when he was ten years old, his third grade teacher inspired him to aspire to use a guide dog when he was old enough.

Isaac was mainstreamed in his early education and then attended a secondary school for the blind. Here he honed his skills in Braille, computer, and other subjects to help him to lead a successful and happy life. He has an Associates degree in social work and is now working toward his Bachelors in criminal justice with a minor in psychology, which will equip him to work with juveniles. He is presently a volunteer for the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department.

Isaac enjoys horseback riding, reading fiction and romance nonfiction, and following college sports on TV. He has found Izzie to be obedient and loving. “I know Izzie will help me get around more efficiently and with safety.” Isaac purports that at this point in his, if God were to offer him his sight back, he would refuse it.

Tanya Wszalek and Dallas

Courageous graduate gives back through volunteerism and fundraising

Tanya Wszalek, 49, returned to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, Dallas. She enjoyed her work as a letter carrier for 16 years, walking seven miles per day. This all came to an end the day after Christmas in 2001, when, at age 44, she suffered sudden partial sight loss as a result of a frontal brain tumor which had crushed the optic nerve. Then, while in the hospital awaiting surgery, she had a stroke. The changes in her life were almost too hard for her to bear: resigning her position, partial memory loss, and some changes in her personality. The professionals at the Olmsted Center for the Blind in Buffalo, New York helped Tanya to understand and accept her condition and life changes, and referred her to Guiding Eyes, where she was partnered with her first dog, Reebok.

Tanya leads a positive and fulfilling life as a volunteer at an elementary school five days per week. She has traded in her feeling of total loss for one of fulfillment. Her leisure time is filled with doing all types of puzzles, and crocheting lap throws for local nursing homes. Dallas, she says, “is absolutely wonderful: affectionate, an excellent worker, and full of energy – we have already bonded. Dallas is a great companion he makes me feel safe.” Tanya raises money for Guiding Eyes, and this year raised $10,000 for the school’s annual Walkathon.

Mickel Young and Gigi

Lions Club V.P. pursues higher education with first dog at his side

“Amazing – it just can’t be put into words – my wonderful guide dog Gigi, the meals, service, facilities, training, accommodations,” is Mickel Young’s description of his recent experience as a first-time student at Guiding Eyes. Mickel was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa eight years ago, and as a result of an intensive internet search and advice from a counselor from the Arkansas Services for the Blind, he was able to weigh his vocational options wisely. Now 38, married with two young children (and a 16-year-old niece) in the household, Mickel is currently a full-time college student with a major in history working toward his doctorate. His wife Carol is a nurse in the local hospital’s neo-natal/intensive care unit. Mickel is a community leader: he submits articles to the local newspaper and is Vice President of the local Lions Club. During his leisure time he enjoys hunting, fishing, time with his children and reading. Gigi is well-suited to her new master: sweet, gentle in nature, an excellent worker and affectionate. Mickel looks forward to having Gigi at his side when he goes on to the university. He feels that Gigi and he were just made for each other.