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January 2007 Graduating Class

Meet the members of our recent training class who graduated on January 20.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Robert Beckwith and Jagger

Robert Beckwith has come from the Boston area for Jagger, a yellow male Lab, his fifth dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Robert was without sight at birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity. His disability was compounded by a fall when he was an infant, which fractured his right arm. The break was not detected in time to prevent the loss of full dexterity in his arm and hand. Robert came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as the result of the advice of his dark room tech instructor who was also blind. Robert put his technical education to good use and became an employee of the State of Massachusetts Commission of Banks as an investigator of collection agencies. Four years ago at the age of 53, he took early retirement. Now Robert says that he happily fills his days with reading, puttering, using his computer, walking and watching sports events. Robert well recognizes that all relationships take time to develop, and he is using every moment to ensure a close bond with Jagger: “He is young, and we are learning about each other. Having traveled 35 of my 57 years with a dog, I wouldn’t be without one! Three cheers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind!”

Jerry Ewing and Randy

McAdenville, North Carolina is home to Jerry Ewing, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Randy, his third dog from the school. Blind since birth from retinitis pigmentosa, Jerry now 53, sports a notable southern drawl and a tan to match the sunny climet.  Jerry was employed by Amp, Inc., a cotton mill for thirteen years and then turned to the Randolph-Shepherd Vendor’s Program for the Blind for training in the restaurant industry. He subsequently became a Level IV Restaurant Manager for five years. When he returns home, he plans to limit himself to food vending, rather than full restaurant management. “Randy,” says Jerry, “is a happy-go-lucky dog whose personality is pure dynamite.” He looks forward to their partnership through which Randy will add a substantial amount of freedom and vibrant energy to his master’s life. Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Jerry had nothing but praise for the school. “From Management to Maintenance, everyone is here to help this to be a constructive and warm environment. The instructors are truly great and are open-minded enough to anticipate and meet the specific needs of each student.”

Cindy Fagan and Webster

Cindy Fagan has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from St. James, New York for Webster, her fifth guide dog, but second from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Cindy chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of their totally supportive, quick and sympathetic response to her initial phone call of inquiry to the school. She has had impaired vision since birth as a result of albinism.  Cindy, now 35, has earned two masters degrees in Rehabilitation and Orientation and Mobility from Western Michigan University and now plans to “hit the pavement” and search for suitable, permanent employment. She describes Webster, who was presented to her on her birthday, as affectionate, playful and a great solid worker. She has no fear of traveling in territories unknown to her and particularly enjoys accomplishing a new route.  That confidence and joy will continue with Webster. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, “phenomenal” is the word Cindy used. “They treat us like adults here and the training is tailored to each individual’s need. I say, bravo!”

Mary Jeanne Hemesath and Emma

Mary Jeanne Hemesath has come from St. Paul, Minnesota, for Emma, her fifth guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Mary Jeanne lost her sight at the age of 27 from retinitis pigmentosa. Initially directed to Guiding Eyes for the Blind by a friend at a school for the blind in Arkansas, Mary Jeanne remembers well that her first contact with the school was “like magic.” Mary Jeanne is an active volunteer for organizations that serve the mentally handicapped. She is a meeting coordinator for Faith and Light, a world-wide organization whose meetings consist of doing fun things together, singing and prayer. She is also a volunteer at Vision Loss Resources. As we spoke together, Mary Jeanne was creating a basket, just one of her many hobbies. She describes Emma as “beautiful with angel wings – she glitters like a diamond!” She fully expects that they will do everything together: travel, walk and won’t think twice before setting out on new adventures. Mary Jeanne describes Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a big family unit that takes in total strangers and treats them as family members. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is the best school in the world for the blind as well as those with other disabilities.”

Melissa Resnick and Cora

Melissa Resnick, presently living in Merrick, Long Island, New York, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Cora, her fifth guide dog from the school. Melissa has been blind since birth as a result of Leber’s disease. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind initially upon the advice of her parents and has never regretted the decision. Melissa graduated from Queens College with a Masters in Library Science and would now love to travel to Maryland to find work at the “mother ship of all medical libraries,” The National Library of Medicine, located in Bethesda. Melissa was married at the age of 34 to a man whom she considered to be her very special soul mate. He died five years later and the gap in her life remains deep and wide. Now 42, Melissa not only keeps herself busy with crocheting creative items such as blankets, baskets, slippers, socks, etc. but is anxious to expand and enrich her career as a librarian. She says that Cora is a very “settling dog.” She is laid back, dependable and not at all hyper. Melissa expects that she will have more confidence and independence and will most certainly be positively affected by the fuzzy warmth and love of her new canine companion. Melissa expressed her admiration for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “That is why I keep coming back! The staff is attentive, the instructors are patient and when you have special problems, they are there for you, even during emotional turmoil.”

Omar Rivera and Montana

Omar Rivera, a native of Colombia, South America, came to the United States and became a citizen here in his mid-twenties. Born with myopia, glaucoma claimed his sight when he was 27. Omar smiled as he recalled that when he was having problems learning to understand and use the English language effectively, Sister Gabrielle, a nun from a Catholic school in his town, spent many arduous hours helping him to surmount his language difficulties. For her help, he remains forever grateful. Now, at the age of 49, married for 30 years and father of three beautiful daughters, Omar has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from southern New York State for Montana, his fourth guide dog from the school. He is now happily and successfully engaged in the computer industry. Omar is a true walker. He commutes by foot a total of at least four miles daily between the City’s railroad station and his office. He claims Salty, his retired dog, has well-worn pads on his paws to confirm his master’s impressive daily commute. Omar feels that Salty, now 11, has earned a much-deserved rest at home. He believes that Montana, a working, obedient, focused and attentive canine, will be an effective partner for him. Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Omar lauds the positive changes that have taken place through the years including the tangible warmth of the school’s environment, the dedication, knowledge and skills so apparent in the staff as a whole.  He also admires the efficient, wise direction and function of management.  “Everyone here, without a doubt, wants you to succeed!”

Edwin Rolon and Amber

New Britain, Connecticut is the home of Edwin Rolon, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fourth dog, Amber. Edwin was two years of age when it was discovered that he was blind due to a lack of nerve development. He attended the Lovell School for the Blind in the Bronx through high school. Edwin came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind 21 years ago to tour the school’s campus and was sold on its program. He is employed at Industries for the Blind, packing bags for the military. In his free time, Edwin likes to read, listen to music and watch movies. He also loves to hike around the area in which he lives. Amber, an black female Lab, is gentle, calm, affectionate and a wonderful worker. Their partnership is solid. He knows that Amber will be a tremendous help in his everyday and out-of-town travel as well as infrequent hiking expeditions. Edwin has nothing but kudos for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “They are very good and take time to help each student and hey, the food here is terrific!”

Sam Rossier and Volkman

Sam Rossier hails from Montpelier, Vermont and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fourth dog, Volkman, a yellow male Labrador. Born with glaucoma, Sam did have some sight until he was in his 30’s. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was highly recommended by various contacts he had within Vermont’s Association for the Blind. Sam followed that advice 21 years ago and has never been sorry that he did. Sam holds a B.A. in Psychology and Counseling and presently works as a church business administrator. Sam is married and has two daughters, ages 12 and 19. He enjoys reading, working with wood and tools, and is an avid collector of tapes, records, and CDs of all types of music. He believes that Volkman is laid back, independent, challenging, affectionate but with a humorous bent, as well. Volkman will meet his retired predecessor when he goes home with Sam to Vermont. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Sam describes the experience as being user friendly, where transitions are adeptly and successfully accomplished, and respect is the rule. Sam was pleasantly surprised to meet a student he was in class with at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in 1985: Omar Rivera. “It is always a wonderful experience coming back and seeing people you know!”

Ethel Sabo and Clara

Ethel Sabo, from Ridgewood/Queens, New York holds the distinction of being the class’s eldest member at 76. Ethel has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to receive Clara, her seventh dog, second from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She learned through the years from various reliable sources of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s fine reputation and so applied to the school and was accepted. While a high-school teenager, Ethel lost her sight as a result of an unknown virus which attacked her optic nerve. She worked twenty years for the Industrial Home for the Blind but at present she is a happy stay-at-home woman. She loves to read history and crime fiction, does her own housekeeping for her apartment, walks to the store for groceries and other needs and feels that she gets a healthy bit of exercise moving about. Like Ethel, Clara is stable, a steady worker and calm as a cucumber. Ethel anticipates that Clara will keep her in motion and will give her more independence. “She is a Godsend! I feel that I have a friend at my side. A slow but firm and steady bond is taking place between us. “Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Ethel says “This is a great school. The trainers are excellent, the dogs are nothing less than superb!”