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January 2008 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on January 26

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Elisabeth Bradley and Janie

Former teacher becomes advocate and counselor

Elisabeth (Betsy) Bradley, 36, came to us from North Carolina for her first guide dog, Janie. Betsy’s visual impairment was diagnosed as retinitis pigmentosa when she was 25. She and her husband attended a conference at which time they met Field Representative Michael Meteyer and decided Guiding Eyes was the right place for her. Betsy received her Bachelors degree in Elementary Education/Spanish and English at Ohio Wesleyan University and subsequently taught school for 13 years. She leads an active life, and spends three days a week working with those suffering with Alzheimers and bereavement issues. Betsy also enjoys working with children, and is a vibrant public advocate/spokesperson for the visually impaired. Betsy’s first impressions of Janie are loving, adorable, and a great worker that always wants to please. Betsy knows that Janie will assure her greater independence and increase her ability to do the things that are so important to her. Betsy’s praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind is unbridled: “The instructors and staff are wonderful and put their very all into the program. Their consummate goal is for every single student to succeed.”

Ambrose Erkstine and Hamlin

Brain tumor robs him of sight but not spirit

Ambrose Erskine, 37, lost his sight two years ago as the result of a benign brain tumor. He readily admits that if he had gone to the doctor sooner, his sight might have been saved. Nonetheless, Ambrose, who hails from Brooklyn, New York, is a positive young man with a hopeful outlook. He came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon the advice of his mobility instructor and has nothing but praise for the school. “They really care for you.” Ambrose is engaged in a full schedule of recreational activities, including ceramics and computer classes and a book club. Ambrose wants a career in customer service training. He has been paired with Hamlin, a large black Lab, that is playful, loving and a great worker when in harness. Ambrose and Hamlin have fallen in love. Ambrose has been somewhat confined at home, listening to talk shows, science programs, books on tape, and other indoor activities, and now predicts that he will be able to go out on the street and shop, walk and socialize with more confidence.

Leslie Hamric and Lava

Musician and computer pro sought small class size

Leslie Hamric of Illinois came here for Lava, her third guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She was encouraged to do so by her mobility instructor who favored the school’s smaller class size. Leslie, born with retinopathy of pre-maturity, is a multi-talented young woman who has devoted many years to music. Earning degrees from the Universities of Western and Northern Illinois as well as the Eastman School of Music with majors in music therapy, cello performance, piano and voice, Leslie now leads a busy and happy life. She is a computer and adaptive technology aficionada, and also enjoys hiking, biking, rafting, camping and cross-country skiing, all of which she does with her husband of 17 months. Leslie mentors the visually impaired by sharing her experiences and knowledge. She describes Lava as her “dream boy” because he is laid back, mellow, sweet, obedient, and a serious worker. “Guiding Eyes is awesome: it has lived up to my highest expectations with its family atmosphere, structure, instruction, attention. Each student is fully supported, always with firm but gentle nurturing.”

Deborah Holmes and Isis

A grandmother becomes a dog lover

First-time Guiding Eyes student Deborah Holmes gradually lost her sight 24 years ago. Her eye specialist directed her to another patient who had acquired a dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She reminisced that her mom, now 80, had advised her long ago to get a dog. Finally, following their advice, Deborah did some further research and contacted the school. Deborah’s initial occupational aspiration was to be a social worker, so for a brief period, she attended LaGuardia College in Queens. However, marriage and four children later, she is happily engaged in a full life that includes her grown children and five grandchildren. Deborah also enjoys sewing, plays the piano and likes listening to music of all sorts. Deborah told us (with a wry grin) that before coming to Guiding Eyes, she was definitely not an animal lover. However, Isis has become the “love of her life.” They have become inseparable, physically and emotionally. Deborah knows that her new sense of independence and travel safety will add considerable confidence and enjoyment to her life. “I love this school. It is a wonderful environment in which to learn. The instructors and the staff here are phenomenal.”

Diana Iglesias and Trevor

From South America for first guide dog

Diana Iglesias, 33, came to Guiding Eyes all the way from Columbia, South America to receive her first guide dog, Trevor. Blind since birth from glaucoma, Diana listened to her friends’ advice and consulted the school’s web site. Diana teaches English at the University of Antioquia. She loves to listen to music, is an avid computer buff, and is presently working towards her Blue Belt in marshal arts and judo, in which she competes with sighted people. Trevor is a black Labrador that has earned Diana’s respect with his intelligence, and sweet, calm and obedient demeanor. Diana’s impression and experience at Guiding Eyes has been very positive. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind es la major escuela por su gente y sus perros y su entramiento guias.”    (Guiding Eyes for the Blind is the best school for its people, its dogs and its guide training.)

Angela Irwin and Enrico

Special Needs Program accommodates blindness and MS

It took a very close call with an 18-wheeler truck to convince Angela Irwin to follow the recommendation of her mobility instructor and obtain a Guiding Eyes dog. Born blind as the result of an undeveloped optic nerve, Angela had depended on her “scent, sound, touch” mobility training for many years. She also has multiple sclerosis, now in “stage 3,” due to a subsequent car accident. Angela moved recently to North Carolina to live near her mother and two brothers. Before coming here, her days were comprised of watching television, listening to music, baking, sewing and using her computer. She and her guide dog Enrico have already developed a meaningful relationship. “Enrico,” she says, “is a good boy: laid back, but obedient and an excellent leader and friend. He will give me more independence than I’ve ever experienced before. Thank you, Guiding Eyes. I love it here. I want to move in.

Stephen Kuusisto and Nira

Author and Guiding Eyes veteran returns for third dog

Stephen Kuusisto is well-known to Guiding Eyes staff: in 1994 he was our first consumer relations manager, a position now held by Becky Barnes. Steve received his first dog here and met his future wife, Connie, to whom he has been married for 11 years. Steve is a Fulbright Scholar and holds graduate degrees from the University of Iowa and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Today he holds a dual professorial appointment at the University of Iowa, teaching courses in Creative Non-fiction and The History of Disability in Medicine. A highly acclaimed public speaker, Steve has appeared as guest on many popular TV and radio talk shows, and is the author of the widely acclaimed Planet of the Blind, which has been translated into 14 languages. He is the author of several other books, with three more awaiting publication. Steve is a well-respected and outspoken advocate for the disabled. The Multiple Sclerosis Society of America awarded him its most prestigious honor in the category of “Books for a Better Life.” Steve’s third dog, Mira, is “a fast moving, eager beaver and an affectionate and confident leader.”

Bonnie Lorensen and Olympus

Cubs fan comes to Guiding Eyes for third dog Bonnie Lorensen came to us from Illinois for her third guide dog, but Olympus is her first from Guiding Eyes. She applied upon the advice of a friend who appreciatively spoke of the smaller, more intimate class size and personalized instruction at the school. Bonnie was diagnosed at the age of 22 with retinitis pigmentosa and declared legally blind. Bonnie has two children, now 28 and 32, and three grandchildren. She had worked effectively for 23 years as a typesetter who designed newspaper layouts. Bonnie loves to watch baseball on TV and is a faithful Chicago Cubs fan. She also enjoys walking and listening to music. She has bonded with Olympus, her “cuddly, smart, intuitive and fast-paced dog who definitely enjoys a vigorous belly rub any time. I know that Olympus will give me so much more freedom to leave the house to shop, walk to town for the mail and to visit friends. The food here is great, the instructors are excellent, the group is fun and the freedom is limitless. One question: Why do New Yorkers fold their pizza?”

Leslie Lowther and Seager

Packers disappoint, but not Guiding Eyes Leslie Lowther, 32, returned to Guiding Eyes from Wisconsin for her second dog, Seager. Visually impaired since birth, Leslie followed the advice of a Guiding Eyes graduate she met at a technical school. She observed that guide dog and graduate worked well together as a team. Leslie was otherwise well-schooled by classes in mobility, Braille and computer skills. She is a volunteer in her church’s nursery, participates in apartment complex activities, loves to play BINGO, listens to books on tape, and is an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers. She particularly loves her position as a Christmas bell ringer for the Salvation Army. She describes Seager as laid back and playful, but knows when he is expected to work and does so with great efficiency and a wagging tail. Leslie is sure that Seager will give her greater independence and rid her of the fear of getting out to do new and different things. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is family oriented, with professional instruction, solid teamwork and total student support. It can all be summed up in one word: superior.”

Michael Moore and Mork

Future attorney advocate returns for second dog

Michael Moore was 34 years old and working as Wardrobe Supervisor of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when diabetic retinopathy claimed his sight. After he received his first Guiding Eyes dog he enrolled in Roger Williams University’s School of Law to become an attorney advocate for the disabled. Now 42, Michael returned to Guiding Eyes from California for his second guide dog, a yellow Lab named Mork. Michael’s interests are many. He is a voracious reader of books on tape and loves the theatre and opera. Mork is a good natured, strong willed, but gentle guide who matches his master’s fast pace. Michael knows that Mork will keep him active and also allow him to sit for his upcoming Washington State Bar exam. “This is an amazing place. It has changed my life. Magic things happen here. I eagerly look forward to my future with Mork at my side.”

Jeffrey Womack and Rufus

Rufus teams up with Red Cross volunteer

Jeffery (Jeff) Womack was 46 when he noticed that his already blurred vision was worsening; the cause was diagnosed as retinitis pigmentosa. He decided that his sight loss would not keep him from his work as a Red Cross volunteer health and safety specialist and freelance instructor in life-saving techniques. Rufus, Jeff’s first guide dog, is a yellow Lab that is outgoing, fun loving, playful and a strong leader. They bonded immediately. Rufus will always be at Jeff’s side as a valued partner: at the computer, at the workbench (where Jeff tinkers with electrical things), and at Jeff’s daily physical workouts. He will also enable Jeff to travel faster on the city streets as well as on the bus and metro. Jeff expressed his strong feelings about Guiding Eyes: “You can’t find a better school than this. It’s the very best there is.”