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February 2017 Graduating Class

February 2017 1

Emergency Services Fuel Corporation and friends would like to congratulate
the graduating teams for February 2017. Special thanks to the staff, volunteers, and puppy raisers of
Guiding Eyes for producing such extraordinary dogs.
Best of luck to all of you.
– Ed and Joseph Dunckelman and Lisa Sinatra, volunteers and proud foster family of Vito

Congratulations to the Graduating Class of February 2017.
– From Duke, the twelve-year-old blind Airedale Colorado Springs, CO

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

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.


Residential Graduates:

Alexis and Carter
Amber and Rumi
Britt and Graham
Charmaine (Nicole) and VanGogh
Heather and Asher (P)
Irene and Yoshi
Joseph and Izzie
Kristina (Tina) and Clara
Linda and Yani
Richard (Ricky) and Alice
Tricia and Jody


HOME Training

Ann and Tory
Edilia and Lowell
Raul and Larry (P)
P: A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes for the Blind in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our instructors:

Class Supervisor:
Stephanie Koret

Class Instructors:
Caryn Fellows
Nikki Wentz
Dan Weesner

Apprentice Instructor:
Laurel Sheets

Instructor Assistant:
Katherine Russell

HOME Training:
Dell Rodman, Field Representative
Michael Goehring, Field Representative
Alyssa Tilley, Guide Dog Instructor

Puppy Raisers/Regions

Alice – Mckayley Kralik, Capital NY
Peggy and Jeff Rouse, Capital NY
Carter – The Shulman Family, Westchester, NY
Clara – Amy Sodus. Erie, NY
Lisa Miller, Erie, NY
Graham – Linda Lerch and Tom DiPasquale, Monroe NY
Izzie – Erica Lillo, Dominion, VA
Jody – Kelly Coney Pacious, North Carolina
Rumi – Jennifer Tiedeman and Graham Drake, Baltimore,MD
VanGogh – The MacEsker Family, Northern VT
Yani – The Burkey Family, Dominion VA
Yoshi – Emily Wydra, Dominion VA

Home Training

Larry – The Carforo Family, Lower Westchester
Lowell – The Pierre Family, Richmond, VA
Tory – Barbara and Michael Lakota, Westchester, NY


Amber and Rumi
Amber and Rumi
When Amber was born with retinitis pigmentosa, she took her place in a family that was genetically predisposed to this degenerative eye disease. The list was long and included her mother, brother, grandmother, and many of her cousins.

Amber had some difficult times in school because of her vision loss. “I was different, and the other kids poked fun at me.” Luckily, Amber was able to power through, thanks to the support and experience of her family.

Early on, Amber got her first guide dog, and when it came time to retire him, she wanted to change guide dog schools. Her mom suggested her alma mater, Guiding Eyes for the Blind. With that familial endorsement, Amber applied to Guiding Eyes for her second guide dog and was matched with Rumi, a female black Labrador.

“Guiding Eyes dogs are so sweet, smart, and well-behaved. The matching of guides to students is great. Rumi and I just clicked. Guide dogs are more than just our eyes. They are a lifeline. They are our best friends, our partners, our soul mates. They do more than lead us around. They are there for the good days and the bad days and to lick the tears off of our faces.”

Amber wants everyone to know that, “because of the dogs we can make a difference in the world, we can let everyone know that we aren’t as dependent as the world might think we are. A disability doesn’t make you different, it makes you special. And Guiding Eyes knows that.

Congratulations to Rumi’s puppy raisers, Jennifer Tiedeman and Graham Drake.


Britt and GrahamBritt and Graham

When she was 16, Britt passed her driver’s permit test. Unfortunately her dad had the difficult task of telling Britt that she could not drive because of her diminished vison. Diagnosed when she was four with retinitis pigmentosa, Britt understood that her safety and the safety of others was at stake if she continued to drive. “That’s why I’ve never driven,” she says.

Britt received her first guide dog from Guiding Eyes in 1994. It was her counselor at the Kentucky State Department for the Blind who told her, “Guiding Eyes is the best guide dog school in the country.” Britt found her counselor’s recommendation to be spot-on. “The follow-up, all the extra support and the trainers are just…wow,” says Britt. “It gets better and better with each dog. Picking up the dog harness for the very first time was FREEDOM.”

And now she has Graham, a beautiful German Shepherd and her third Guiding Eyes guide dog. “He is doing beautifully, and I absolutely adore him. He loves affection, and I thank the puppy raisers for that.”

Currently Britt works for the U.S. Census Bureau. “I call and do phone interviews with people who did not return their paperwork.” You don’t want to mess around with Britt, because she will find you.

“I want people to know that there is no government funding for Guiding Eyes,” says Britt. “They need donor support. I want to be a contributing member of society. I can do that with a Guiding Eyes guide dog more than I can with a white cane.”

Congratulations to Graham’s puppy raisers, Linda Lerch and Tom DiPasquale.


Charmaine and VanGoghCharmaine and VanGogh

Charmaine, who goes by Nicole, was born with Peters anomaly, a very rare eye disease that results in blurred vision caused by corneal opacity.  Since there was little visual stimulation, she also has amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” because of a disconnect between the brain and the eyes. Surgeons were able to restore some of her sight.

Growing up she wasn’t treated as a kid with an impairment – going to mainstream schools and doing the normal stuff a typical high school student would do. In fact, Nicole has a bachelor’s in business with a concentration in human resources.

In her thirties, the degeneration of her eyes continued as did the surgeries. Eventually Nicole lost what little eyesight she had. Rather than succumb to this life-changing event, Nicole powers through. Having gone through vision rehab, Nicole has faced her challenges and volunteers at the American Red Cross as an intake specialist.

Nicole traveled from North Carolina to meet VanGogh, a male yellow Labrador and her first guide dog. Singing the praises of the trainers, “They let you learn from your mistakes, but they’re close by if you need them. Now that I have VanGogh I feel like I can get back to my life. When we’re outside, people acknowledge him, and it starts conversations. VanGogh has been a blessing.”

Congratulations to VanGogh’s puppy raisers, The MacEsker Family!


Heather and AsherHeather and Asher

Heather, an identical twin, was born with retinitis pigmentosa. She had some vision in her early years, but it started to deteriorate in her thirties.

A white cane user, Heather found Guiding Eyes through acquaintances and her own research.

On meeting Asher, a male yellow Labrador and her first guide dog, Heather says she fell in love. “Having Asher means confidence to me. I call him my little hero”, she says. “I have a newfound confidence, companionship, and loyalty. I’ve been crying a lot lately—all tears of joy—because my heart overflows with thankfulness.”

When Heather returns to her home in Arizona, Asher will accompany her to the Ocean State Center for Independent Living where she is a newly promoted information and outreach specialist. Trips to the Rhode Island State House, where Heather is an advocate for people who are hearing and visually impaired, will be on Asher’s travel schedule as well.

“Guiding Eyes changes lives, builds confidence, and gives you your freedom back,” says Heather. “Thanks to Asher and Guiding Eyes I can glide down a sidewalk without the fear of falling. It’s incredible.”

Congratulations to Asher’s puppy raisers, The Treaster Family!


Joseph and Izzie
Joseph and Izzie

Joe was born blind, the result of a drug called thalidomide that his mother, like many pregnant women in the 1960s, had taken to alleviate morning sickness. A native of Spain, Joe’s parents were disappointed to find that there were no schools for the blind in Spain at the time. So they and other parents of children who were blind or hearing impaired started their own. Continuing his education, Joe became an attorney which is only the beginning of his resume.

Matched with his fourth guide dog (Izzie) from Guiding Eyes, much of Joe’s meteoric accomplishments have been accompanied and assisted by Guiding Eyes guide dogs. “Izzie is going to be the best dog ever. With the ability to respond to all my commands, she is very well tempered and well balanced. Once you have that you can succeed in anything you put your mind to.”

Clearly living by his mantra, Joe came to the U.S. as a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to get his MBA degree which led to a professorship at several universities in Spain where he taught international marketing.

Elected mayor of his town in Spain, Joe was the first blind mayor in Europe. He then became Vice President of his county only to be followed by the presidency of the entire county’s Democratic political party. Tapping into his exhaustive ambition Joe became Deputy of the Parliament of Catalonia, Spain – as an advisor of the Provincial Government of Barcelona in the welfare dept.

So it should come to no surprise that Joe feels, “Guiding Eyes for the Blind not only provides dogs but they provide freedom and freedom makes you available to experience equal opportunities in life. A guide dog allows you to have a job just like everyone else”

Congratulations to Izzie’s puppy raiser, Erica Lillo!


Kristina and ClaraKristina and Clara

Not only was Tina born two months early, she was born with Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP is a disease that occurs in premature babies that causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina, the layer of nerve tissue in the eye that enables us to see.

She excelled in preschool for the blind, public school, and summer school for the blind. In college she majored in special education, then switched to speech therapy and worked in the field for two years.

An avid runner and jogger, Tina became involved in a non-profit whose mission was to provide fitness programs to the blind or visually impaired. Getting involved as Tina tends to do; she eventually became director of the program.

”Guiding Eyes is willing to break boundaries,” says Tina. “That’s why I came to Guiding Eyes—for the Running Guides program. I knew I had to have a guide dog that was able to keep up with me and run.”

Clara, a female black Labrador, is Tina’s first Guiding Eyes guide dog. “What I like about Clara is her ability to move in and out of people or crowds at a decent pace,” she says. “And running with a guide dog is better than running with a white cane. At Guiding Eyes, after every lesson, we talk through what our needs are with the instructors and what the next steps are. They are willing to break boundaries like the Running Guides program. In fact, Clara and I are going for a run this afternoon”

Tina happily notes, “Guiding Eyes is helping people with vision loss, like me, to have the lifestyle we want to have. When donors support Guiding Eyes they’re helping us contribute to society.”

Congratulations to Clara’s puppy raisers, Amy Sodus and Lisa Miller!


Tricia and JodyT. Lacey & Jody

Well into her late 30’s, Tricia was driving, working as a parts inspector for Mitsubishi, and generally living and loving life—until an eye infection from her contact lens spiraled out of control, causing optical scarring that obliterated her vision in her right eye. With diminished vision in her left eye, she remains vigilant to prevent further infections.

Tricia’s condition was preventable, but because her insurance did not cover the expensive medication needed to stop the infection, Tricia lost her sight. And then she formulated a plan for her future. Now with Jody, a male black Labrador and her second Guiding Eyes guide dog, Tricia will continue working towards her bachelor’s degree in law, specifically social justice. She started classes with her now retired Guiding Eyes dog Augie with Jody picking up where he left off.

“Guiding Eyes always wants to help,” says Tricia. “With Augie, my first Guiding Eyes guide dog, and now Jody, I feel more independent and safe. People have to know that when you support Guiding Eyes you’re giving someone a chance to feel like somebody and not feel so different from everyone else. With a guide dog, it’s a whole new world.”

Congratulations to Jody’s puppy raiser, Kelly Coney Pacious!


Ricky and Alice
Ricky and Alice

So how many people do you know who were able to jump-start a failing non-profit that helps blind or visually impaired men, woman and children?

Meet Ricky. He took the Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes (TNABA) from 25 members to nearly 3,500 strong, with four chapters (sports clubs) in the state of Tennessee. The mission of the TNABA is to enhance the lives and overall health of people who are blind and visually impaired through sports and recreation.

Born legally blind and only able to see some light, Ricky has always had a proclivity for sports. He played football in high school and continues to stay active playing a variety of sports including running marathon after marathon. In fact, he completed the New York City marathon twice. Alice, his female black Labrador and his second Guiding Eyes guide, will be running by his side having been trained to guide and run through our Running Guides program. Alice and Rick will be going out for a run after this interview.

“Between the time my first dog Pearson retired and before I received Alice, I had to go back to feeling dependent on others to help me,” Ricky says. “With Alice I have my freedom back, thanks to generous donors who are investing in the future of the graduates of Guiding Eyes. They’re giving people independence, mobility, and confidence. And they’re enabling us to go on and help others.”

Congratulations to Alice’s puppy raisers, McKayley Kralik and Peggy & Jeff Rouse!


Linda and YaniLinda and Yani

As a registered nurse for 30 years in Massachusetts Linda worked in every department – intensive care, critical care, and the emergency room—until glaucoma and pressure on her already narrow optic canals robbed Linda of her sight. Having always kept up with her eye exams, Linda was actually on her way to see her doctor when her eyesight started to fail. She was diagnosed with glaucoma.

Currently not working, Linda is taking a well- deserved break. Generally, a very active person as a volunteer for Catholic organizations and former President of the PTA and Junior League, Linda was a skier, a tennis player and loved her golf. Still very much involved as a board member for the Commission for the Blind in Massachusetts, she helps arrange services for the blind or visually impaired in the community.

Finding out about Guiding Eyes through a Christmas card, Linda did her research and found that Guiding Eyes would be a perfect fit. Yani, a female yellow Labrador and her first Guiding Eyes guide dog, has allowed Linda to, as she puts it, “no longer feel like a klutz.”

Having been a community fundraiser, Linda knows that donations to Guiding Eyes help to give people back their freedom and self-respect. “Having Yani is like having my eyes—my life—back again,” she says.

Congratulations to Yani’s puppy raisers, The Burkey Family!


Alexis and Carter
Alexis and Carter

When paying your taxes, you might be lucky enough to talk to Alexis first. You can imagine that as a customer service representative for the U.S. Department of Treasury’s tax division, Alexis has had some very interesting conversations.

Born with aniridia, which is the absence of the iris, Alexis has had vision problems since birth. When glaucoma developed, Alexis’s eyesight deteriorated even further. Despite a series of surgeries throughout her childhood, Alexis always excelled in school. She earned an associate’s degree in general studies and her bachelor’s in communication.

Alexis learned of Guiding Eyes for the Blind from a co-worker who was a graduate. Alexis did some research and applied. Carter, a male black Labrador, is her first Guiding Eyes dog. “He’s a perfect match for me, and we’ve bonded so well,” she says. Thanks to Carter, Alexis has more confidence in her ability to move about freely. She is certain Carter will make traveling easier, especially navigating airports. She adds enthusiastically, “Guiding Eyes goes a long way in helping people like me achieve their independence and freedom.”

Congratulations to Carter’s puppy raisers, The Shulman Family!


Irene and Yoshi

Irene and YoshiThanks to The Today show’s following of Wrangler, a Guiding Eyes pup, Irene was able to garner information about the training program and move forward with becoming a student.

Because of early onset macular degeneration when she was a toddler, Irene’s vision has always been poor. Three years ago, after two cataract surgeries, Irene learned that she was legally blind even though she could still see at short distances.

Irene applied to Guiding Eyes and now as a student, she wants us all to know that “With my new buddy, Yoshi, I know it’s all going to be okay.” When asked what the difference is between having Yoshi, her male black Labrador, and using a white cane, Irene is quick to say, “I have more freedom, more independence, and more confidence in myself. Thanks to Yoshi, I’m looking forward to volunteering in an animal shelter and getting back to work.”

Irene adds: “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a wonderful opportunity for people who are visually impaired to regain their self-esteem. Students will encounter what I did—a wonderful staff that is patient and explains everything. I could not have asked for a better bunch of people.”

Congratulations to Yoshi’s puppy raiser, Emily Wydra!


HOME Training:

Raul and Larry

“Having my guide dog Larry creates a unique bond which cannot happen with a cane.” Raul has truly partnered with his new Guiding Eyes guide dog, Larry.

Blind since he was 18 years old, Raul lost his sight due to Glaucoma. Not letting anything stand in his way, he eventually started his own business; RGA Tech solutions. Training employees the latest in technology, Raul works with corporations in Texas but maintains an extensive list of private clients as well.

Now, one would think his time would be monopolized with his business, but Raul does a significant amount of volunteer work with The National Federation of the Blind; teaching Braille to children. Raul also serves on the board of The Houston chapter of The Texas Association of Guide Dog Users, and The National Association of Guide Dog Users.

When the subject comes around to Raul’s guide dog Larry, Raul is full of praise. “I rarely keep a schedule and travel often. Thankfully, Larry is comfortable with not having a routine. Guiding Eyes for the Blind did a fantastic job in matching me with him. He fits all my needs.”

Raul believes that anyone who is blind or visually impaired should have their choice of a cane or a dog. “By donating to Guiding Eyes, the choice of having a dog and the opportunity to see what these exceptional dogs can do becomes more attainable.”