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January 2009 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated in January 2009.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Ann Chippetta and Verona

Local writer is inspired by first Guiding Eyes dog

Ann Chiapetta and VeronaWestchester resident Ann Chiappetta didn’t have to travel far to meet Verona, her first Guiding Eyes dog. She was born with retinitis pigmentosa, and her sight gradually deteriorated to the point when, in 1993, she declared legally blind. Having earned a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts, followed by a Masters from Iona College, she has worked as a youth leadership coordinator as well as family counselor; she has also designed furniture, which she claims is her visual “creative outlet.” When she was declared legally blind, she said, “I had to relearn my identity.” Ann and her husband of 16 years have a 13-year-old daughter and 17 year-old son. Ann is also an author, and has written a number of poetry and fiction works – some of which have appeared in “Dialogue” Magazine. One article, “In Search of a New Partner,” will appear in the spring edition of the magazine.

In her own words, Ann describes her new life with Verona: “The freedom I experience when Verona is guiding me defies adequate words. The best I can do is say it’s exhilarating, perhaps as good as seeing again. The partnership and trust Verona and I share is incredible.”

Mel Clarrage and Newton

Disability Rights advocate returns from Maine for second dog

Mel Clarrage and NewtonMel Clarrage, who lost his “useable sight” at the age of 36 as a result of congenital Rebers disease, returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Newton, his second guide dog. He has been divorced for four years, and has two daughters, ages 17 and 21. He earned an undergraduate business degree from Maine’s Hudson College, after which he worked as a government employee for 15 years. He then attended additional counseling and vocational rehab courses, and completed his Masters at the University of Southern Maine. Today he has a challenging and gratifying career as a Government Advocate for Disability Rights.

Mel enjoys speed walking (16 miles per week), general exercise and sports. Newton, he said, is a “mellow marshmallow” that doesn’t need heavy correction; he is also a well-paced walker and loves to please. “I think the training here is absolutely excellent; there is nowhere in the world like it; I would never go anywhere else!”

Brian Connors and Vale

Accident injuries don’t stand in his way

Brian Connors and ValeBrian Connors’ fall from a second floor balcony traumatically injured his brain and left him with only two degrees of vision in his left eye. Brian, 34, is also a diabetic. His father searched the internet to find ways to help his son, came across, and Brian applied and was admitted. He returned in January to Guiding Eyes for his second guide dog, Vale. Before his fall, he completed three years of college, majoring in engineering. Brian then decided to leave school for a well-paying and promising career working on high-voltage power lines. The result of his cognitive and physical injuries from the fall, however, have left Brian unemployed and receiving Social Security disability benefits. But Brian uses his time well and attends classes. He describes Vale as “awesome” – a great worker, that walks well, and much like himself, is easy going and adaptable. Brian expects that Vale will motivate him to do more walking.

Lynda Ingraham and Visa

Former Olympian treads confidently with third Guiding Eyes dog

Lynda Ingraham and VisaLynda Ingraham returned here for Visa, her third Guiding Eyes dog. She was diagnosed at age 14 with Stickler’s Syndrome, which affected both her sight and hearing. Linda said she initially chose Guiding Eyes because of the excellent reputation of our training and dogs. She has been married for 31 years and is a licensed clinical social worker. Her career path has led her to work in the areas of addiction, mental health and the homeless. After a four-year hiatus, she would now like to return to work.

Lynda enjoys shopping, reading, knitting, and walking. But she is perhaps most proud of her participation on the first Olympic Blind Swim Team in 1976. She knows that Visa, with her sweet upbeat disposition, down-to-business work ethic and trustworthiness, will help her stay safe and enhance her busy lifestyle. “Everyone here is so professional; every class has a true sense of ‘community’ and all of the training techniques are innovative and effective.”

Eileen Kilcoyne and Viviann

Born in Ireland, guided through the U.S. with third Guiding Eyes dog

Eileen Kilcoyne and ViviannEileen Kilcoyne emigrated from Ireland to New York City in 1962. She was only 23 years old and considered legally blind, but was determined to find a new life for herself with all the opportunities America could provide. Eileen describes her early days here as a “frog to princess fairy tale.” She has worked in a variety of different roles – governess, menial office worker, receptionist, and telephone company employee. American culture has found a way into her heart, and Eileen enjoys the television and theater, and the important emphasis on physical fitness. Other hobbies include knitting, singing, and socializing.

“Vivianne,” she says, “with her quiet, affirming, obedient, yet happy personality, will play a very important role in enabling me to go out more and to travel on my own.” Eileen has nothing but sincere kudos for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “A home away from home, this is truly a wonderful place. Through the instructors’ abundant understanding, kindness, knowledge and instruction, they have opened the windows of my life and enabled me to take a deep breath and live it with fervor.” Thank you, Guiding Eyes!”

Mark Littlefield and Tammy

Technology professional credits his mother and father and Guiding Eyes for his fulfilling life

Mark Littlefield and TammyMark Littlefield was born with congenital cataracts, developed glaucoma at age ten, and eight years later, macular degeneration. He lives in New Hampshire and came here in January for Tammy, his second Guiding Eyes dog. Mark works in the field of assistive technology for the visually impaired. He received his training in computer technology and radio at the National Radio College; today he is a respected professional in his field and makes many public, radio and civic presentations. Mark, a John Tesch fan, is also a talented musician and is comfortable with many musical genres, playing piano, guitar, and drums.

Mark credits his parents for providing an environment in which he could maintain his independence and reach for and achieve his goals. He happily describes his new guide Tammy as “laid back, a loveable ‘mush pup’ that loves to please.” Mark believes that Guiding Eyes gave him a new lease on life, and inspired him to use his varied talents and abilities to help others. “My special thanks to Guiding Eyes . . . and my Mom and Dad.”

Amanda Skipworth and Renny

College student teamed with “talkative” first dog

Amanda Skipworth and RennyAmanda Skipworth chose Guiding Eyes because she liked what she read and later personally observed- the staff and trainers are genuinely compassionate and dedicated to seeing every student succeed in life. Amanda lost her sight only two years ago, as a result of Psuedotumor Cerebri. She traveled to Guiding Eyes from Washington, leaving behind her very large family 3 sisters and 10 brothers! Presently enrolled at Green River Community College, she plans to continue her studies at the University of Washington that will ultimately equip her for social work and other outreach programs. Amanda plays the piano, cooks, gardens, and enjoys walking. Using her talented hands, she crocheted hats for her instructors, supervisors, and classmates. Guide dog Renny is energetic, gentle, and faithfully obedient, and is a well-chosen companion for her purposeful mistress.

Eugene Smith and Sawyer

Texas truck driver meets new best friend

Eugene Smith and SawyerEugene Smith is affectionately known amongst his large Texan family as Santa Claus. Eugene experienced gradual sight loss over the last four years due to diabetic retinopathy. Prior to losing his sight, he traveled the country working as a truck driver. Eugene says that he walks about four miles per day, likes to make people laugh, and enjoys cooking. Known for his jolly disposition and big feet, Eugene credits his success over the past few years to always trying to find the best in every person and every situation. Eugene and Sawyer became buddies immediately, and Eugene fully expects his new guide dog will afford him more independence and freedom. He looks forward to being able to go out alone.

Shady Timraz and Chaz

First guide dog creates opportunity

Shady Timraz and ChazShady Timraz, 28, of Illinois came to Guiding Eyes to receive his very first guide dog. Guiding Eyes has provided Shady with a dog that matches his personality to a “T”. Shady looks forward to returning home with Chaz whom he believes to be abnormally intelligent. He believes that having Chaz will help him to seek out better employment opportunities. “I’ll actually be able to travel around the city with confidence with Chaz in the lead. I can’t wait!” When he speaks of his stay at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Shady’s face lights up, “It has more than fulfilled my expectations. I love it here; the instructors and my classmates are like a second family: I am so very happy and feel right at home!”