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December 2017 Graduating Class


Congratulations to the graduates! We send our warmest
wishes to you as you celebrate this day.
–Blessings from The Doolittle Family Foundation

In Memory of Mary Marchand, loving mother.
–Paul Marchand

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

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates

Cindy & Balsa
Claire & Dusty (S)
Coby & Lyra
Hannah & Cobey
Jessie & Kasha
Julianne & Lindy (P)
Justin & Diesel
Michael & Amie
Rodney & Jake

ACTION Training
Deborah & Iris
Gary & Bowie

Home Training

Andrew & Vaughn
Brenda & Cheerio (P)
Cynthia & Cy (S)
Jim & Archie

(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 donor listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dog:

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our Training Staff

Class Supervisor: Jolene Hollister
Class Instructors: Lori Busse, Louise Thompson
Instructor Assistant: Katherine Russell
Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza

Home Training

Graham Buck, Asst. Director of Training
James Gardner, Director, Home Training
Megan Crowley, Home Training Instructor
Julie Angle, Special Needs Instructor
Susan Kroha, Special Needs Instructor
Michael Goehring, Field Representative



Cindy & Balsa

Cindy has held many titles in her life. She is currently the development and community outreach coordinator for The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., in Seattle, where she oversees the volunteers and social media, leads school tours, coordinates networking events, and writes blogs for the organization’s website. She is the immediate past president of the Washington Council of the Blind and chair of the leadership institute committee of the American Council of the Blind. “But Nana is the title I love most of all,” says this mother of two and grandmother of three.

Cindy has been blind since birth due to congenital optic atrophy, and with Balsa, a female black-and-tan German Shepherd, she welcomes her eighth guide dog and first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She describes her new partner as “a solid worker and a lot of fun.”

A passionate Seattle Seahawks fan (she and her husband Tim watch every game), Cindy commutes to work across Puget Sound, traveling an hour and a half each way, by bus, ferry, Uber, and Tim’s “chauffeur” services to be at her desk by 6:30 a.m. “I’m a good white cane traveler,” she says, “but with a cane I can only go as fast as I feel safe. With a dog there is such a freedom: to walk at my pace, not worrying about the cane getting stuck in a crack and jamming me in the stomach. Just walking with confidence and independence. I appreciate the way my trainer made me feel like she was putting tools in my toolbox, mentoring me and Balsa to be the best team we can be.”

Congratulations to Balsa’s puppy raisers, The Wilson Family!




Claire & Dusty

As the mother of a grown daughter and a former foster parent, Claire describes the experience of training with her new Guiding Eyes for the Blind partner this way: “You have to be willing to be a mom again. After you have a baby, everyone else takes care of the daily responsibilities so you can relax and bond with your child.”

Born and raised on a pig farm in rural Maryland, Claire began experiencing hearing loss at an early age. By the time she was 18 she was having a difficult time in dimly lit areas. That’s when she learned she had retinitis pigmentosa; a diagnosis of Usher syndrome Type 2 at age 30 resulted in additional hearing loss. But it was an early position at a land-surveying firm that inspired her to take up AutoCAD drafting, a career she enjoyed for 20-plus years. The hardest part of her disability? “Leaving my family for nine months to go to school to learn how to use the white cane.” But, Claire adds, “I found my tribe there.” She also met a visually impaired fellow student who worked with a guide dog, and an idea began to take shape.

Now Claire, who lives in Virginia with her husband James, works as a massage therapist four days a week. Of her new partner, Dusty, who is a female yellow Labrador and Claire’s first guide dog, she says, “She makes my life complete. I can go out for a walk without my husband and without fear.” She describes Dusty as a “tomboy, a buddy, and a little girlfriend who has a mind of her own sometimes.” Of her experience at Guiding Eyes, Claire says she is amazed at the time and effort it takes for the staff to train and work with the dogs. “I want to take everyone home with me.”

Congratulations to Dusty’s puppy raisers, Jeannie Neary and Tom & Janet Rice!


Coby & Lyra

Zest, zoom, and zing: those are the three words Coby uses to describe the trainers at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “They never let their guard down,” she explains. “They’re so up, so even. Reinforcing us as well as keeping the training going with the dogs. They’re juggling all these balls and with such a wonderful attitude.” This is Coby’s first experience with Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “It is such a well-honed system,” she says, “from the way they order meals to the depth of training and the knowledge of the trainers.”

The eldest of five sisters—three of whom lost their vision to retinitis pigmentosa—Coby has been legally blind since 1976. The New Mexico resident is an occupational therapist and the only certified vision rehab specialist in the entire state. She owns her own practice, Low Vision Rehabilitation LLC, located in Albuquerque. Lyra, a female yellow Labrador, is her second guide dog and her first from Guiding Eyes. Coby had been without a guide for four years by choice. As for Lyra, she says, “She already loves me to death. I can tell she knows what she’s doing.”

Lyra will accompany Coby, on foot or by para transit, when she meets with clients and travels to board meetings, goes to the grocery store or the mall for a walk, or to the gym just a few blocks from her house where she lives with her husband. Coby was particularly struck by the Student Commitment to Excellence statement each student receives on acceptance. “And then during the training they said, ‘These dogs are Olympic athletes and we want you to keep treating them as though they’re superb athletes. It really has fired me up to be super competent when I go home.”

Congratulations to Lyra’s puppy raisers, Erin & Kathy Stamer!


Hannah & Cobey

Before she was even partnered with her new guide dog, Hannah was already researching doggie sleeping bags. That gives you a sense of the big plans she has for her new partner Cobey, a male black Labrador. A native New Englander with an undergraduate degree in accounting and psychology, Hannah until recently lived in Ohio, where she worked as a contractor for the Department of Defense.  But the pull of the East Coast, including the promise of better public transportation, brought Hannah to Massachusetts, where she currently does both accounting work and assistive technology consulting.

Legally blind since birth due to Leber congenital amaurosis, Hannah participated in the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Running Guides program. She runs at least six days a week and has twice run marathons “accidentally”—once when her human guide forgot to turn at the half-marathon turnaround point and once when the runners she was going to split the race with had to drop out at the last minute).  A former Starbucks barista and accomplished knitter who loves to camp and hike, Hannah has also run an “ultra”— a 200-mile race, divided between the six people on her team, all of them blind.

“Cobey will be able to run with me,” says Hannah, “but nothing crazy like that.  It’s just exciting to be able to decide to go out my door and go for a run and not have to go on a treadmill or hunt down a human being who wants to run.” Of her first guide dog and future running partner, Hannah says, “Cobey is brilliant.  I have a lot to learn.”  The biggest surprise?  “How much this dog likes food.  If there’s food involved, he’ll do anything.”

Congratulations to Cobey’s puppy raisers, Deb Watrous & Doug Knowlton



Jessie & Kasha

“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is Jessie’s approach to life. And it has helped her get through multiple challenges over the years. Jessie was born with cataracts in both eyes due to congenital rubella syndrome. Additional eye surgery—specifically a corneal transplant—may mean further damage to her sight. A Nevada native and one of 12 siblings, Jessie taught early childhood special education and facilitated training of support staff for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas.

Jessie, who is hearing impaired, had never worked with a guide dog. The biggest challenge for her, she says, was to learn to trust Kasha, a female yellow Labrador. “But it didn’t take me long to discover that Kasha is better trained than I am. I can already tell I’m going to move a lot faster with her.”

The experience of working with Guiding Eyes for the Blind has helped Jessie understand when she should use her limited vision and when she shouldn’t. “I call it double training,” she says. “They’re training me to use my sight and training me for the possibility that I might lose it completely.”

Now retired, Jessie lives in a Utah college town a block from her sister. Kasha—her “worker bee”—will live with Jessie and her two cats. They can walk to many of the places they will need to go, including nearby family, a favorite coffee shop, and yoga where Kasha will have her own mat.

Congratulations to Kasha’s puppy raisers, The Newman Family!



Julianne & Lindy

Julianne loves many things about Long Island, where she was born and where she continues to live. But there is one thing she’d like to change: as far as she knows, there are only two restaurants on Long Island with Braille menus—Cheesecake Factory and Outback Steakhouse. So Julie, as she’s known to friends and family, will return to Molloy College, where she is a junior, for a degree in business management, in the hopes of working in the restaurant business. “I want to make a difference,” she explains. “There are so many restaurants that aren’t accessible to people with disabilities.”

A lifelong white cane user who has been blind since birth due to neurofibromatosis, Julie welcomes her first guide dog with Lindy, a female yellow Labrador. “The experience has been wonderful,” she says of training with her new partner. “Everyone at Guiding Eyes really takes the time to listen to you with respect. And I can’t imagine being with any other dog. She’s so beautiful and affectionate. When we went on our first real walk with the harness, it just really felt right. I’m looking forward to our future together during my college experience and after.”

In addition to going out to restaurants, Julie plans to travel with Lindy to New York City museums, maybe even take the subway. But she will spend most of her time close to home: “I’m not a city girl,” she says with pride. “I love Long Island.”

Congratulations to Lindy’s puppy raisers, The Niezrecki Family, and Bill & Alice LeBlanc!


Justin & Diesel

Justin was a junior at the University of North Carolina, majoring in engineering, when he noticed spots in his vision. It was April 2016, and he assumed the problem, which was more noticeable after he worked out at the gym, meant he needed a new eyeglass prescription. But as the weeks went by and the spots multiplied, Justin embarked on a journey of discovery, one which found him legally blind in June and with a firm medical diagnosis in August: Leber hereditary optic neuropathy.

By the time he was diagnosed, Justin had left school, quit his part-time restaurant job, and moved back home. Like any dedicated athlete, however, Justin just needed a period of rest between sets, so to speak. Now, a year and a half later, Justin is a competitive bodybuilder with a growing YouTube following, sharing his wisdom about vision loss and bodybuilding. And he has a new training partner: Diesel, a male black Labrador. (To see the amazing moment Justin and Diesel first met, go to YouTube and search for Justin Holland’s channel.)

“Diesel has been perfect,” Justin says. “It feels so cool when he’s swerving around obstacles in minutes that would take me hours to do with my white cane. It blows my mind. I want to be more independent, and with Diesel that will be a walk in the park, compared to using my cane.” When asked what Diesel will do when he is at the gym, Justin has a ready answer: “Hopefully he’ll spot me,” he says with a laugh.

Congratulations to Diesel’s puppy raiser, Marley Davies!


Michael & Amie

If you are a fan of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, you will understand why Michael gets such a kick out of the name of his new canine partner, Amie. Michael shares his Illinois home with his wife and their pet dog Penny. (For those who aren’t Big Bang fans, Penny and Amy are two characters on the show.)

A graduate of Western Illinois University with a music education major and a Spanish minor, Michael has been blind since birth due to Leber congenital amaurosis and now works as a massage therapist in a local studio. A percussionist who played steel drums all through college, Michael practices once a week with his band. “We don’t have a name,” he says. “It’s basically my dad’s coworkers, and they’re all in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.” They play a wide range of music, from Elvis to modern country. When he’s not working or playing drums, Michael loves to go to restaurants with his wife, Nicole, or go fishing: “I will fish anywhere I can get a pole in the water,” he says.

Michael describes Amie, a yellow female Labrador who is his second Guiding Eyes guide dog, as “a very careful worker. She takes her work very seriously. She’s a little goofy,” he adds, “very affectionate, and has a dry sense of humor.”

Congratulations to Amie’s puppy raisers, Gail & David Parrish and Brian Davis!


Rodney & Jake

“Jake is kind of like me: he takes things in stride.” That’s the way Rodney describes his new partner, and why he and the male yellow Labrador are such a natural fit. The father of two grown daughters, Rodney worked in retail and law enforcement in his native Texas before switching careers to respiratory therapy, which required working in all areas of a hospital, tending to both patients and machines.

After a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, Rodney was declared legally blind in 1988. He’s now retired and lives in Colorado with his wife Brenda, who shares Ronald’s passion for Colorado Rockies baseball, travel, and cooking. His specialties are recipes handed down from his mother, who also had retinitis pigmentosa, including baked spaghetti and homemade sushi.

New to guide dogs, Ronald says one thing in particular surprised him about Guiding Eyes for the Blind: “I had no idea the organization was so client-oriented. They really want to make sure the student-dog match is a good match, and they do everything they can to make sure the team is successful. They bend over backwards twice: both for the student and for the dog.”

Congratulations to Jake’s puppy raisers, The Morgilander Family!


ACTION Training


Deborah & Iris

Guiding Eyes for the Blind has impacted Deborah’s life in many ways, beginning with finding her a husband. It was 1991 and Deborah—who has been legally blind since the age of 12 due to Stargardt disease—was taking part in a Guiding Eyes walkathon when she met a local Yorktown Heights man named Anthony Cirillo, who was a dedicated Guiding Eyes volunteer. They connected over the fact that he was a ski instructor for the disabled, and she was interested in learning to ski. And the rest, as they say, is a happy history.

Now Deborah and Anthony live in suburban Philadelphia, where Anthony is a telecommunications consultant. Deborah, a retired lawyer who also has an MBA, was the first deaf-blind person in the United States to graduate from an accredited law school. She is a volunteer at Action Wellness, an organization that provides services to people with chronic illness, and serves as vice chair of the SEPTA Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation (SAC), a committee for accessible transportation for people with disabilities.

A participant in our Running Guides program, Deborah also spends many free hours during the week with the Achilles Track Club. She welcomes her sixth Guiding Eyes guide and new running partner with Iris, a female yellow Labrador. “I got my first dog at the age of 21, right before business school,” she explains. “I got my second guide during law school, and I’ve had a dog ever since. As someone who is deaf and blind, I rely very heavily on a well-trained guide dog to travel quickly, independently, and safely. Guiding Eyes for the Blind has accommodated me throughout all the years. Iris enables me to maneuver through congested city sidewalks, navigate train platforms, and safely cross the busiest of intersections—and she loves doing it! It is great to have a dog guide with a love of working and a love of life!”

Congratulations to Iris’s puppy raiser, Lauren Doninger!


Gary & Bowie

“I hate being bored.” So says Gary, a Baltimore attorney and first-time Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate. After hearing about his work and volunteer activities, that sentiment makes perfect sense.

Married to a social worker, Gary is extremely public service-oriented. He works as the senior assistant attorney adviser at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and is finishing up a six-year term as a governor appointee to a state civil rights organization. He’s also a rising senior officer in a Maryland Masonic lodge. “It’s the world’s most ancient secret society,” he says. “If I’m not at work or doing something else, I’m there two nights a week.” (He is quick to point out that Bowie, his male black Labrador, will be an honorary officer.) Of Bowie, he says, “I am incredibly honored to be partnered with Bowie. We are partners in independence. When I enter a new room or encounter a new situation, I have my sidekick by my side. We work on goals and challenges together.”

A lover of the outdoors, Gary enjoys hiking, swimming, and heavy bag boxing. When he thinks about his own life he says he identifies with two fictional characters: Yoda from Star Wars and Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation. “They’re both highly gifted, but outsiders,” Gary says. “I had to draw a picture of myself for a leadership course, and I drew a warrior scholar, hiking. Accompanied by a dog, of course.”

Congratulations to Bowie’s puppy raisers, Nicole Schulte and The Gravelding Family!

HOME Training



Andrew & Vaughn

“I have my best bud back.” That’s how Andrew describes the arrival of Vaughn, a male yellow Labrador and his second Guiding Eyes guide. A Kansas native who was born without a right eye and limited vision in his left (“it’s like looking through a really, really small straw”), Andrew lives with his parents in his bustling hometown where the local sports teams he roots for are almost too numerous to name. (He does, however, have a special, out-of-state fondness for the University of Michigan football team.)

This was Andrew’s first time participating in our Special Needs Home Training program, and he described the moment he took his first outing with Vaughn and his trainer: “We were walking to the park and I started crying. I was so happy to have my second guide dog with me. The trainer stopped and just gave me a big hug. It made me feel really good. I love Guiding Eyes so much.”

A jazz fan and former volunteer barista at a local coffee shop, Andrew studied marketing and promotion in college and is the proud founder of a small nonprofit called Guiding Paws. Now he travels throughout his city, giving presentations on guide dogs and visual impairment. “I’m going to be spreading the word, and Vaughn’s going to help me do that,” he says. “When I hold that harness in my hand, it’s like walking on a cloud.”

Congratulations to Vaughn’s puppy raisers, Jim & Lynn Sinnott!




Brenda & Cheerio

The summer Brenda moved to Texas the heat broke a record: over 100 degrees for more than 90 days. Still, the native Pennsylvanian appreciates the weather (“I don’t miss shoveling snow”) and the food scene in her new home. It doesn’t hurt that she moved to Texas for love: She married husband Randy, who was living in Texas when they met.

Now the couple live with Cheerio (a yellow male Labrador Brenda affectionately calls Rio) and Randy’s partner, also a Guiding Eyes guide. The new canine pair is off to a good start although, Brenda explains, “He has to be reminded that he is two years old and Randy’s dog is seven and doesn’t need to be pounced on.”

A dedicated volunteer who helps the local Beep Baseball team—“they call me H2O,” she says—Brenda also dog sits for service dogs in her area who need an experienced handler watching over them while their partners are away. Brenda is training Cheerio to back up by putting two chairs side by side and coaching him to go between them. It’s a skill he will need when he flies with her to the Beep Baseball World Series as well as on trips back east to see family.

The youngest of three sisters, Brenda and her eldest sister lost their sight to retinitis pigmentosa. Brenda was just two years old. Of her new dog, she says, “He is very outgoing, very bouncy and boisterous—and he voices his opinion.” Brenda participated in our Home Training program and was particularly thrilled to work with Cheerio in her own environment. “I am very grateful to Guiding Eyes for allowing me to do home training,” she says. Home training clearly worked for Cheerio too. As Brenda describes it, “I fed him as soon as he got here, and he was relaxing on his back by evening.”

Congratulations to Cheerio’s puppy raiser, Patricia Arnold!



Cynthia & Cy

“It’s just safer to have a guide dog than to be out there with a white cane,” Cynthia explains matter-of-factly. “People are more apt to talk to you, but also to distract the dog—that’s a balance in itself.” She adds with a laugh: “You don’t see it coming.” Cynthia has been legally blind since 1963, after losing her sight to cone-rod dystrophy. A former debt collector who worked for a collections agency—a job she got after taking classes at The Chicago Lighthouse—she once commuted an hour and a half each way to work. Now the suburban Chicago resident works as a massage therapist out of her home, seeing ten to 15 clients per week. As for starting her own business, Cynthia says, “I excel at challenges. Tell me I can’t do it, and I’ll show you that I can.”

With Cy, a male black Labrador, this mother of three and grandmother of one (with another on the way) welcomes her second Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide. They participated in our Home Training program. “Cy is a very energetic, playful, stick-to-your-side kind of dog,” she says. “He’s like ‘I can do my job and I do it well, but when I’m not in that harness, I’m a dog!’” When Cynthia is not crocheting or tending to her garden, she likes to walk for exercise. She and Cy will make regular trips to run errands and—depending on the Illinois weather—to Dunkin Donuts, “to get out and have a treat.”

Congratulations to Cy’s puppy raisers, The Paul E. Rice Family!



Jim & Archie

If you call Jim and get his answering machine, you hear the following succinct, cryptic message: “Jim Dickson: Don’t mourn—organize.” Jim, needless to say, is a doer. The former vice president for organizing and civic engagement for the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Washington, D.C. resident was instrumental in winning the fight to have FDR appear in a wheelchair in the statue at the entrance of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in our nation’s capitol.

Jim has been legally blind since 1953, due to juvenile macular degeneration, and Archie—his new partner, a black male Labrador—is his fourth Guiding Eyes guide. Jim describes Archie as a “high-speed tank” who has one unusual habit: “I think the puppy raisers or the trainer spent a lot time at Starbucks because I can’t walk by a Starbucks without him getting excited. I can be a block away and say ‘Let’s go to Starbucks’ and we get there very, very quickly.”

Jim lives with his wife Renee and enjoys movies, playing chess, reading, and sailing. In fact, in 1987 he sailed alone, for 11 days, from his native Rhode Island to Bermuda. A member of five nonprofit boards and the co-chair of the voting rights committee for the National Council on Independent Living, Jim describes his typical week as “too many meetings.” No question, his active, community-focused life explains the voicemail recording. “The message, says Jim, is: No matter how bad you think things are, don’t cry about it. Do something about it.”

Congratulations to Archie’s puppy raisers, Carl and Carol Van Wyk!