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February 2007 Graduating Class

Meet the members of our recent training class who graduated on February 17

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Vanessa Beltran and Hunter

Seattle, Washington is home to Vanessa Beltran.  She came to Guiding Eyes for her very first guide dog and Hunter is his name.  Vanessa became legally blind at a young age as the result of glaucoma. Her educational background at Portland State University was centered on Political Science. Vanessa also signs and can read Braille. Recommended to Guiding Eyes for the Blind by a colleague, she currently works as a customer service representative for Seattle’s Lighthouse for the Blind. However, she would like a career in sales and marketing. Music, dancing, swimming and jogging are at the top of this 27-year-old’s list of favorite pastimes. Hunter, she says, is like a big teddy bear. “He is mellow, sweet, obedient, and readily shows her his affection.” Speaking of Hunter as like “having your first baby,” she says she will have to change some of her habits to accommodate her new companion. Never having experienced the type of schooling that Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides, she has been “blown away.” “The trainers are so dedicated, patient and kind: they care about each student.”

Gracia Ben-Moyal and Ivanna

Gracia Ben-Moyal traveled all the way from Kiriat Bialik, Israel for Ivanna, her third guide dog, the second from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She searched the Internet for a school that would meet her specific needs. Her first physical encounter with Guiding Eyes for the Blind sold her as she noted the expertise of the instructors and over-all quality of the establishment. Gracia, now 47, was born blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. She attended high school through the tenth grade and is currently employed as a telephone operator. Gracia loves music. She is a flautist and sings with a lyrical soprano voice. She also enjoys walking and swimming. Although Gracia is not fluent in English, she understands and can communicate just enough to express her thoughts. Ivanna is an affectionate, face-licking, happy dog, that also knows what her job is and does it most ably. Gracia feels that Ivanna will help her to walk freely without the aid of anyone, her sister, primarily, and that she can now assume more independence. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a wonderful school where there is a true sense of family comfort and invaluable, patient instruction and care. I will not only take a wonderful dog, but happy memories home with me to Israel.”

Avivah Hahn and Anouk

Avivah (translated in Hebrew as “Spring”) Hahn hails from Cedarhurst, New York and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Anouk. Educated in the fields of illustrating, nursing, cosmetology, and paramedic training she has enjoyed a rewarding career as a technical illustrator, manager of a restaurant and several beauty salons. But three years ago, all that changed: Avivah lost partial sight which eventually culminated in a diagnosis of lymphoma and a detached retina, which left her legally blind. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was recommended to her by Visions of New York, an agency which provides services to blind adults. Avivah, now 65, twice married, is a mother of seven and grandmother of 14. She now plans to go back to school and study nutrition and preventive medicine. Avivah is a “helper” by nature, and she aspires to being there for shut-ins and those in need. She is also a music lover, crochets and enjoys being out-of-doors. Avivah knows that Anouk will give her the gift she longs for most: that of independence, the ability to be self-sufficient. She praised Guiding Eyes for the Blind for its ability to make everyone feel as “one” in effort and value. “The instructors are patient, gentle and have a special gift of removing all apprehension. There is no such thing as failure here.”

Richard Higgins and Everette

Richard Higgins has come to the frigid north from warm Marietta, Georgia to receive his third Guiding Eyes dog, Everett. Richard lost his sight suddenly in 1989 as a result of diabetes. He was then 25 years old, and a junior in college. With the encouragement of his family to continue and finish his education, he earned dual degrees in marketing and professional sales. As a result of his rehab training, Richard made the decision to obtain a guide dog and was referred to and promptly accepted by Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Richard, now married for five years, presently works as a property tax collector. However he would like to return to college and prepare himself for counseling and social work. His present passion for hiking, gardening and wildlife plus just the “refreshing smell” of the out-of-doors stems, he says, from fond memories of his earlier days. Richard readily acknowledges and conveys his vibrant faith in Jesus Christ. He describes Everett as being an excellent worker, who exhibits a quirky spontaneity of hilarity and fun when not in harness. Richard truly believes that Everett will be a constant aid to him in his future travels and experiences in going back to school. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Richard had this to say: “The dogs are superb, incomparable! The people here, from top to bottom, are high caliber individuals. They know what they’re doing at Guiding Eyes for the Blind to enable you to achieve success!”

Joe Jammer and Carson

Sacramento, California is home to Joe Jammer, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to receive Carson, his fifth dog, second from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Joe has been blind since birth, from an unknown cause. He is also hearing impaired. Joe, who celebrated his 41st birthday at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, came to the school because he was attracted by the individualized programs that Guiding Eyes for the Blind offered which suited his specific needs. He has received a scholarship from the California Department of Rehabilitation and will soon attend a two-year program at the Helen Keller Center on Long Island that will enable Joe to further develop his life and vocational skills. Joe is a fan of karaoke, loves to sing (he does so in his church choir), plays piano and loves movies. He appreciates Carson’s playfulness and yet his readiness to work hard when the need arises. Joe is looking forward to a life of precious independence when they travel together. Joe is a great fan of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He lauds the individualized attention and especially notes that the instructors invite questions that you need to have answered. “This is a school where you can make errors, but find out how to correct them.”

Reginald Jeffrey and Rodney

The Bronx is home to Reginald Jeffrey who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Rodney, his second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Reginald, who has been blind since the age of three, vividly recalls coming on a school trip to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for a demonstration/tour when he was 10 years old. The trip was conducted by the New York Institute for Special Education that Reginald attended through high school. Married and the dad of three great kids (ages 14-27), Reginald is currently employed doing transcripts for the Immigration Office. Although he has an avid interest in athletics (basketball, bowling, swimming), Reginald’s real passion lies in the field of music. He is a keyboard percussionist, sings, and has produced CD’s which contain a variety of music styles. He reports that he has helped to launch other talented folk into promising careers. He also expresses his true artistic nature in creating sculptured figures from clay. Reginald feels that he and Rodney are alike in many ways: “He is a great dog, can be quite silly at times, but is a determined and good worker.” Rodney will join his retired predecessor, Irish, at home. Reginald knows that Rodney will have a tremendous impact on his life. He has been without a guide for eight months, and has felt somewhat like an “inmate.” The old wonderful feelings of confidence, safety and reliability will be his to enjoy once again. “Long live Guiding Eyes for the Blind!”

Tom McDonald and Jester

Tom McDonald has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Marshfield, Massachusetts to launch a brand new phase of life with his very first guide dog.  Jester is a high-energy, affectionate male black Lab that loves to work. Tom lost partial sight when he was 16, but the condition remained undiagnosed until he reached age 29, when it was identified as retinitis pigmentosa. Tom has enjoyed a successful career as Specialist E-5 in the military, followed by working in Bridgewater State College’s physical education program for handicapped veterans, and later in the recreation department at the Fernald State School. Tom, now 58, married with three children, plans to enter the University of Massachusetts/Plymouth to equip himself to become a counselor for those addicted to alcohol and drugs. He loves walking or bike riding (tandem with his wife and son) and enjoys doing anything else the out-of-doors has to offer. Tom says that Jester and he have trained together at Guiding Eyes for the Blind to walk in safety and ease on streets with no sidewalks, a necessity in Marshfield. Jester, incidentally, will join Zach, the family’s six-year old pet retriever, when they return home. Tom’s assessment of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, his home away from home for three weeks, is short and expressive: “I’m in awe – simply blown away!”

Heidi Pierce and Elaine

Guiding Eyes graduate, Heidi Pierce hails from McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She will be returning there with Elaine, a black Lab. They will be joyfully greeted by Heidi’s husband and three children, ages 12, 13 and 17. Born 39 years ago with retinopathy of prematurity, Heidi did not lose sight in her left eye until she was 18, but the condition worsened considerably just eight months ago when she sought help from a rehab counselor in the Pittsburgh area who recommended Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Heidi had earned her B.A. degree in Social Work and a Masters in Elementary Ed from California University of Pennsylvania and completed her requisite student teaching, which certifies her for teaching Grades K-6. She hopes to teach in the local elementary schools as a sub. With an avid interest in interior design and decorating, Heidi also loves to do gardening around her home. Elaine is a people pleaser: loving and sweet but serious about her work. Heidi knows that Elaine will give her more independence and will be a great asset in the work force, not only in helping her, but serving as a learning tool for the kids with whom she works. “Above and beyond all my expectations, the dedication to their clients is 110% every day. What a wonderful, wonderful program!” These words were gratefully ascribed by Heidi to the effectiveness of the staff of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

David Sweeny and Darcy

David Sweeny has come from Brooklyn, New York for his new guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Darcy is his second guide dog, first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. David came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of the advice of friends and earnest internet research. David has been legally blind since birth as a result of congenital retino-blastoma. In 1990 he became totally blind. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in Economics and currently owns and operates a real estate company in New York City that buys buildings for reconstruction, etc. David has been married for 15 years and has one daughter. David enjoys music, plays the piano and drums, likes to read, go to conferences and loves the out-of-doors. He feels that Darcy is sweet, not rowdy, even-tempered and serious about her work. David knows that Darcy will enhance his life greatly. Without a dog for a year, he knows that she will contribute greatly to his ability to handle business, do volunteer work (he plays piano in a hospital geriatric ward), travel, and take walks. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, David said this: “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is overwhelmingly positive. I am comfortable here. I feel a sense of community and belonging. The whole experience is one of mutual respect, thoroughness and great results!”

Lonnie Williams and Ink

Lonnie Williams, 47, made his very first plane trip when he flew from Raleigh, North Carolina to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Ink, his first guide dog. Ten years ago Lonnie suffered a cerebral tumor at the back of his neck that caused his sight loss. His mobility instructor at The Governor Moorehead Rehabilitation Center for the Blind referred him to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, but Lonnie had one obstacle: he was absolutely frightened beyond description of getting into a plane and flying. Now smiling as he reminisces, he strongly credits God for releasing him from that fear. Lonnie attended school through the 10th grade and became employed sewing pillow casings. He sings tenor in his church choir and says he loves to listen to books on tape. He found a helpmate just a year ago and is now enjoying married life. He credits Ink as a dog who “goes with the flow” with an obedient, sensitive and curious personality. Lonnie knows that Ink will indeed enable him to expand his territory and become more independent. Lonnie found it hard to adequately put into words his appreciation for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “This is a great place to be. The instructors are spectacular. I just can’t express the extent of my feeling!”