The Guiding Eyes for the Blind Graduate Council consists of nine graduates and two advisors. Members of the Council are from around the world and vary in age, lifestyle, and occupation. Shared amongst this far-reaching group is a deep commitment to Guiding Eyes and a strong desire to give back to the school.
The Graduate Council has three main roles:
One of the main responsibilities of the membership is to conduct a Post-Graduation Check-In with clients who have just completed training in residential class or at home. Council members enjoy speaking with new grads; it’s a time to share experiences and obtain valuable feedback on the training programs. New grads should receive a phone call from a Council member within two months of receiving their new guide dogs.
Council members are often asked to represent Guiding Eyes at conferences throughout North America. It is a great way for potential guide dog users to hear first hand information about the school and its training programs.
A council member serves a term of three years. A selection committee chooses three new members every spring. If interested in applying to be a graduate council member, please contact the Graduate Council at email@example.com or Melissa Carney, Community Outreach and Graduate Support Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to contact the Grad Council please email us at email@example.com or you may email individual members. Refer to their greetings and contact information below or a downloadable Word document is available here.
Council Interim President
Dear fellow graduates! I was born in Venezuela, but I spent much of my youth in Germany. I ultimately earned my MBA from the Business School of Hamburg and a Juris Doctor in International Private Law from University Andres Bello in Caracas, Venezuela.
I then followed in my father’s footsteps and became a diplomat. I served for five years as Head of the Venezuelan Diplomatic Mission in Germany, where I was responsible for moving the embassy from Bonn, the site of the West Germany capitol, to Berlin, the location of the new United Germany capitol, among other duties.
I suddenly lost my vision at age 31 due to glaucoma followed by multiple, unsuccessful surgeries and left my successful life in Berlin and moved to South Florida. I came to the Lighthouse of Broward for assistance shortly thereafter, in 2002. The Lighthouse provided me with the tools and training to help me regain my independence. After six years as a client, I stepped into the role of Director of Development at the Lighthouse and was promoted to VP of Strategic Initiatives and Development in 2018.
During my journey, I found peace of mind by having a guide dog. My first canine companion was Clemens in 2003. Nine years later, I was happy to have Hartley as my new guide dog and friend. And this past November, Louis joined our family. All of my treasured puppies came from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for which I am extremely grateful. Clemens and Hartley were great friends. And my new dog, Louis, is a well-loved companion. I bonded closely with them all – and they all have significantly helped me in my life.
Since 2013, I have been very proud to serve on the Royal Caribbean Advisory Board representing special needs passengers and assisting with ADA issues. And now, I am truly honored to serve on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Council. Thank you for this meaningful opportunity.
Jose and Louis
Deerfield Beach, Florida
Council President Emerita
Greetings fellow graduates– My name is Andrea Conner. It is a privilege to be a member of the Graduate Council; to serve our Guiding Eyes family. The Council has implemented a new position that will assist the current president as he/she transitions into their new role. I am honored to hold this additional office for the next year.
I may be chronologically aging, but I am young at heart and young to vision loss. I travel with my second GEB dog, a male yellow lab named Gretzky, AKA the “Resilient Rebel.” We graduated in the April, 2016 class. I closed my home daycare provider business in 2009 after 35 years and now manage a small franchise business with a focus on wellness and nutrition. For fun, you’ll find me dancing! I am active with my hometown, Wauconda, Illinois, Lions Club and the Woman’s Club. I have the desire to support and assist each of you, our graduate community, with a voice that can reach out to the appropriate GEB staff if you have comments, questions or concerns.
Andrea and Gretzky
Council Recording Secretary
Hello fellow grads, my name is Cindy LaBon and I live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, known to many as the Montgomery Region, just north of Washington, DC.
After taking Retirement from a Labor International I began a new career as a Benefits Counselor, otherwise known as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC). Recently I decided to work part time and continue with volunteer activities. Not only am I serving on the Guiding Eyes Grad Council, I am President of Capitol Area Guide Dog Users (CAGDU), a member of the Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities, Membership Chair of Guide Dog Users Inc., (GDUI), and working with the Montgomery County Pedestrian Safety Master Plan. In December 2022 I received my second guide dog from Guiding Eyes.
Goodman, or as I refer to him as, Mr. Goodman, is a true dream machine! We are beginning to travel – hoping Mr. Goodman loves to cruise, hike, and run around the country attending conferences and visiting family and friends. Targeting is the best command, which I learned from my instructors. I am hoping that Goodman can locate 47 items in the grocery store soon just like my previous guide. Guiding Eyes is the only school that I would attend because the training is geared to my lifestyle and if I have a question there is always someone available to respond to me. My nickname for Goodman is “Helicopter dog” because his tail wags so fast when I harness him; he speeds off just like a helicopter – just what I wanted in a guide dog. He gets to where we are going without missing a mark!
Cindy and Gardenia
Council Corresponding Secretary
Hi Fellow Graduates, Pat and Hogan here. We’re looking forward to serving on the Council. For the past 30 years, I’ve been fortunate to have guide dogs help me navigate daily life. Guiding Eyes for the Blind provided all four of my exceptional guides. Hogan and I were matched in June of 2018. We live on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
I grew up in Timonium, Maryland, and have been blind since birth (with just a little bit of peripheral vision). Hogan grew up in the Cleveland suburbs with his great puppy raisers, Jeanne, Vicki, and Larry.
Over the years, I’ve served Members of Congress and a Cabinet Secretary. I currently work for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, ensuring our elections are secure and accessible. During my free time, I enjoy meeting up with friends, gardening, working out at the gym, performing a little stand-up comedy, and playing the harmonica and drums.
As for Hogan, he likes fetching his rubber ball in our upstairs hallway, playing hide and seek around the house, and chilling at the park. Most of all though, Hogan loves being a guide dog and hanging with me. Like he always says, “Being a guide is fun work and a cool career.” Please reach out to us with any questions or just to say hi.
Pat and Hogan
Hello, Guiding Eyes Community! My name is Ashley Townsend, and my guide dog’s name is Lolly—formally known as Ms. Pop. Lolly is my second guide, and my first from Guiding Eyes. We were matched in May of 2022, and she has been infusing every aspect of my life with joy and freedom ever since. She is an exuberant black lab running guide who is bright and adventure-loving -and has a reputation for being the perfect combo of goofball and genius.
We live in Denver, Colorado and enjoy long walks on our neighborhood trail, navigating the hustle and bustle of the city, and hiking in the beautiful mountainous terrain. Our little family consists of me and my awesome partner Matt, Lolly, and Maya the cat. I am a music therapist and licensed clinical social worker, and recently started my own private practice working with people with complex trauma. As a social worker and a person with a disability, I am passionate about bridging gaps in service, and advocating for access and equity. My interests include singing, all things music and theater, playing with animals, cooking, and being outside.
I am so honored to serve on the Graduate Council and to be a part of the Guiding Eyes Family! I can’t wait to get to know you – and hope that you will reach out any time!
Ashley and Lolly Pop
I may be familiar to some, as I served as Manager of Consumer Outreach and Graduate Support at Guiding Eyes for 21 years until I retired in June, 2020. I am a Guiding Eyes graduate working with my fourth guide, Ballad, a female yellow Lab who became my partner in June, 2019.
My husband, Ron, also a Guiding Eyes Graduate and I moved here to Charlotte from New York state in September, 2017. We both enjoy reading and traveling. Ron is a woodcarver and I am into folk music. I play guitar, autoharp, mountain dulcimer and ukulele and am always looking for folks to play music with. I also love tandem cycling when I get a chance.
I am actively involved in advocacy work with the American Council of the Blind (ACB). I serve as chair of ACB’s national Pedestrian Environment Access Committee which deals primarily with pedestrian safety issues. I also serve on the Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI) Advocacy committee and am 1st Vice President of the North Carolina Council of the Blind. I also joined the board of directors of the Metrolinas Association for the Blind (MAB) here in Charlotte.
I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Prior to joining Guiding Eyes, I worked for 24 years as an Employment and Training Counselor in Western New York State.
The Guiding Eyes Graduate Council is a vital part of the greater GEB community and I look forward to connecting with and serving my graduate family as well as our guide dog school.
Becky & Ballad
Charlotte, North Carolina
Hello, fellow graduates! My name is Judy Mathews, and I have been part of the Guiding Eyes family since 2014, when I was blessed to be partnered with my second guide dog, a mellow yellow fellow named Keats. I live in Colorado Springs with my husband, Casey, my current guide, Lyons, my retired guide, Keats, and our adopted retired PTSD dog, Spike. Lyons is a very curious and spunky black lab. He was raised in Lyons, New York, by his fabulous first family, the Kesels. He was the school mascot for Lyons Senior High School, where Tara Kesel teaches social studies. Lyons was a special named puppy, named for the school and community.
I was born in Cuba, grew up in Florida, and lived there until 2020 when we moved to Colorado. I have my bachelor’s degree in music therapy, and my master’s in visual disabilities. I have been in the field of vision rehabilitation since 2003, and currently work for the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation as an Assistive Technology Specialist. I enjoy spending time with family and loved ones, reading, music, coffee, shopping, traveling, hiking and tandem cycling, playing all types of games, and getting out and about with Casey and Lyons. Lyons enjoys a good meal, as any self-respecting Labrador does, tugging, squeaking his toys or heartily chomping on his bones, exploring, guiding mom anywhere she needs to go, especially to the nearest coffee shop, and playing with his buddy, Keats.
I keep a guide dog blog where I occasionally write about our adventures. Feel free to check it out at:
Judysdogblog.wordpress.com. (link opens in a new tab)
I am honored to be serving on the Grad Council and look forward to connecting with each of you at some point. Feel free to reach out to me if I can ever be of assistance or support.
Judy and Lyons
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Hello fellow Guiding Eyes graduates, my name is Tim Utzig, and I am the proud handler of Alisa, a yellow Labrador. I got Alisa when I was a sophomore at Towson University, and she helped me to graduate successfully with majors in Journalism and Political Science. I have since been working for a government contractor in media, and will be attending graduate school for journalism and Podcasting. I love playing Goalball, running, tandem biking, watching sports, traveling and going to Dunkin.
Alisa and I have traveled all over the world together, from London, Dublin, and Paris, to Los Angeles and the Bahamas. She is a small 50 pound Labrador with a lot of spunk and drive. I look forward to seeing even more of the world with Alisa! I am excited to have the opportunity to serve on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Graduate Council and look forward to the chance to interact with all the great graduates.
Tim and Alisa
Hello, fellow grads! My name is Tina Reisner, and I live in Salt Lake City, Utah! My love for Guiding Eyes runs deep as I have been part of the GEB family for fifteen years! I am working with my second guide dog, a German shepherd named Kahlua, who became my partner in 2018.
I serve as the leader of a guide dog division in Utah and have enjoyed connection, networking, and advocacy work with my state NFB Affiliate. I have a master’s degree in rehabilitation teaching for the blind and work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, where I get the opportunity to meet some dynamic, amazing blind/low-vision consumers!
Some of my hobbies include running, swimming, singing, traveling, and hiking. You will most likely find Kahlua and me hiking in a canyon or traveling somewhere exciting! I am grateful to serve alongside some dynamic individuals on the Guiding Eyes Grad Council and am looking forward to connecting with each of you!
Tina and Kahlua
Salt Lake City, Utah