Close this search box.
Close this search box.

January 2012 Graduating Class


January 2012 Graduating Class

Our Graduates:
Becky Barnes & Lawson
Kaare Dehard & Skipper
James Eddington & Alvy
Steven Famiglietti & Meyer
Liane Getty & Gunther
Nia Green & Ned
Lee Kerr & Hal
Shavon Lockhardt & Baxter
Paul Mack & Blondie
Natasha Nicol & Adam
Melissa Riley & Peace
Edwin Rolon & Amigo
Elizabeth Suarez & Tab
Darlene Thomson & Alma

Home Training Graduates:
Gladys Gonzalez and Benji

Many thanks to our instructors:
Melinda Angstrom, Class Supervisor
Christina Vetrano, Class Instructor
Jamie Viezbicke, Class Instructor
James Gardner, Home Training Instructor
Michael Ceglio, Instructor Assistant

Elizabeth Barnes and Lawson

Becky Barnes is the manager of consumer outreach and graduate support for Guiding Eyes. Lawson, a male yellow Lab, is her third guide dog.

Becky grew up in the Great Lakes area. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science and a master’s degree in public administration from Kent State. Recently widowed, Becky has a brother and nieces and nephews. She enjoys knitting, playing guitar and auto harp, singing, and water sports. Becky’s vision loss is caused by retinopathy of prematurity; she has some limited light perception.

Becky shares, “I’ve been blind all my life but didn’t get my first guide dog until 15 years ago. I don’t dwell on regrets, but if there were one that would stand out, it would be that I didn’t get a guide dog sooner. The ability to walk confidently with my dog – knowing that he will stop at curbs and stairs and will object if I happen to make an unsafe traffic judgment – gives me an indescribable sense of freedom. A new dog makes you think about new things you can do – new roads and new beginnings.”

Kaare Dehard and Skipper

Kaare Dehard was matched with his third guide dog – yellow Lab male Skipper. Together they’ll cross the border to join Kaare’s wife and son back home in Canada.

Kaare came to Guiding Eyes because he respected the training techniques utilized by the school. Before Skipper, Kaare had spent three years navigating the world with his cane; he looks forward to the freedom and independence Skipper brings. His two-year-old son has seen Skipper on Skype and can’t wait to meet him.

Growing up in the country with two brothers and a sister, Kaare was encouraged to do everything they did, and not to let his retinopathy of prematurity dictate his activities. He rode a bicycle, a motorbike, and even drove a car on deserted back roads. Kaare ran a computer shop with his dad, has a degree in massage therapy, and now works in customer service for a communications company. He likes to read, dabbles in writing, and enjoys playing drums with his son. “I plan to take my son on a walk with Skipper to explain how he guides me. My son doesn’t understand that dad is blind and I hope that Skipper will help with that.”

James Eddington and Alvy

North Carolina resident James Eddington was matched with his first guide dog – black male Lab Alvy.

James was born in Jamaica and was diagnosed with glaucoma when he came to the United States. He is now married and has seven stepchildren – three girls and four boys. He graduated from the mainstream public school system and then attended a school for the blind to learn additional career skills. James worked as a dishwasher for several years, and now is going back to school for criminal justice. In his free time, he enjoys sports and video games, particularly wrestling.

James connected with Alvy right away. “I gave him some food and he’s been stuck to me like glue. The bond just grows stronger and I am looking forward to going places I never dreamed would be possible. We have a long road ahead, but together we can go a long way.”

Steven Famiglietti and Meyer

Steve Famiglietti was matched with Meyer, a male German shepherd.

Steve was born premature and has detached retinas; he feels fortunate to have some sight in his left eye. He used to be afraid to walk alone, thinking a car could hit him.

He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and now works as the blind services vocational manager at Oak Hill, teaching people how to use technology to find employment. He co-runs the summer program for blind young adults and introduces them to the possibility of getting a guide dog. Steve’s grandfather ignited a passion for weather and today he vacations on tornado-chasing tours. He also carefully collects cuckoo and grandfather clocks, all in working condition and chiming regularly.

Retiring his first dog was the hardest thing Steve has ever done. She is with her puppy raisers now and Meyer and Steve are starting their new journey together. “I am curious how Meyer will interact with the people in my life. Together we are advocates for what can be achieved.”

Liane Joan Getty and Gunther

Liane Joan Getty returns to Guiding Eyes for a male yellow Lab named Gunther. He is Liane’s third guide dog and will join her in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and two sons.

A drunk driver hit Liane when she was 12. Her supportive parents helped her stay focused, and she received her first guide dog when she was only in high school. She attended Ryder University and majored in business administration and computer science. Liane graduated and worked for AT&T and then the Department of Welfare. She waited until her sons were older to get Gunther, who will enjoy camping in the mountains and touring the Florida Keys with the family. Quiet times will be spent lying by Liane’s side as she makes fleece blankets.

Liane looks forward to newfound independence. She’ll take the bus to venture out of her local comfort zone and explore a new area. Perhaps most important to her as a mother, the boys won’t feel they need to take care of her. Liane shares, “Gunther brings a sense of security to everyone.”

Benjaneia (Nia) A. Green and Ned

Nia Green calls South Carolina home. She is matched with Ned, a male Golden Retriever.

Nia’s name is derived from her father, Benjamin, and “nia,” the Swahili word for purpose. She was born with retinitis pigmentosa and has some sight in her right eye. Her retinal detachment is progressing and her eye doctor suggested a guide dog would help her maintain her independence.

Nia has a bachelor’s degree in social work and is employed as an advocacy coordinator at the Center for Independent Living. She has always been a driving force for people with special needs. In her free time, she writes poetry, sings, and gardens.

Ned will accompany Nia as she goes back to school to receive her master’s degree. She hopes to one day join the Peace Corps and continue to serve others. Ned will be by her side all the way – changing the perception of what it means to be disabled.

Nia wrote this poem and shared it during her January graduation:

I remember the day I met you.
I was captivated by your light
You put your paw into my lap
As if to say-everything’s going to be alright.
It’s truly a match made in heaven.
You seem to know just what I need.
As I take a faltering step,
You now take the lead.
I look to a brand new world
For this is life we travel through.
I can imagine the adventures that await us.
You for me and me for you.
You guide me to higher heights.
And I truly feel a rush
While you give me independence
I give you my trust.

Lee R. Kerr and Hal

Arizona resident Lee Kerr returns to Guiding Eyes for Hal, a male yellow Lab.

Lee is married and has a son, daughter, and 7 grandchildren. His vision loss is due to congenital cataracts. He has enjoyed a varied career, most recently working as a rehabilitation technician for the developmentally disabled. Lee is an amateur radio operator and enjoys fishing with his wife, hiking, camping, and target shooting.

Hal will meet the family pets when he goes to his new home in Arizona – a hound shepherd mix and a tabby cat.



Shavon Alexis Lockhardt and Baxter

New Yorker Shavon Lockhardt was matched with Baxter, a male yellow Lab.

Shavon was born blind but has limited peripheral vision. She mountain bikes, plays basketball, runs track and field, and wrestled on the school team. In addition, she’s a published poet and writes stories.

With a major in broadcasting and technology, Shavon is a recording artist herself and is regularly found working at the college radio station. She hopes to soon find a role in television. She loves New York sports teams – especially the Giants, Knicks, and Yankees.

Shavon shares, “Night travel is the best thing about getting Baxter. I will no longer have to beat the clock to get home before dark.” She also simply enjoys hanging out with her new dog, and looks forward to lots of playtime.


Paul Mack and Blondie

Canadian Paul Mack was matched with yellow Lab Blondie.

Paul loves educating kids on blindness and the use of guide dogs. He regularly speaks at grade schools in his area, believing it’s important to build awareness at an early age. However, Paul’s favorite kid to spend time with is his own seven-year-old son, who certainly understands how wonderful guide dogs have been for his dad.

Paul volunteers at a crisis hotline, coaching people going through tough times. His hobbies include singing, guitar, and baseball.

“My first two dogs were big black male Labs and Blondie is a tiny girl,” Paul shares. “She fits in my guitar case. Subtlety is not in her vocabulary. It’s going to be fun.”


Natasha Nicol and Adam

Texan Natasha Nicol returns home with Adam, a male black Lab. Natasha lives at home with her parents, a longhaired Dachshund, a Chihuaha, and two horses.

Natasha was born with glaucoma and has been using a cane for four years. After graduating from massage school, she came to Guiding Eyes. “Adam is perfect. He is going to make it so much easier to finish my training and start my career.”





Melissa Riley and Peace

Melissa Riley was matched with her second guide dog, female yellow Lab Peace. They’ll travel back to Melissa’s home in Indiana.

Melissa lost her sight when she was 20 years old, due to glaucoma and retinal detachments. She is starting a new job in customer service and will complete her biblical arts major this year. She plays piano and loves to write fiction. Writing has always been an outlet for her, and she particularly enjoys writing about her guide dogs. Melissa believes Peace is “the perfect dog with the perfect name for this time in life.”




Edwin Rolon and Amigo

Ed Rolon is from Connecticut. This month, he was matched with his fifth guide dog from Guiding Eyes – Amigo, a male black Lab.

Ed lost his sight at the age of two due to his optic nerves never fully developing. He moved to Connecticut for the job opportunities and now works at a non-profit agency and volunteers with Meals on Wheels. His job coach is helping him learn the computer and Dolphin software. Ed is a sports fan, watching baseball (the Yankees) and football (Jets.) He enjoys reading mysteries and listening to satellite radio. He belongs to a hiking club that takes monthly trips to historical places.

His last dog, Amber, is retired and lives nearby. Amigo is fitting in wonderfully; he finds the obstacles a cane doesn’t locate and provides much needed independence.


Elizabeth Suarez and Tab

New Yorker Elizabeth Suarez was matched with yellow Lab Tab this month. Elizabeth was born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a rare genetic condition that caused her vision impairment. She is completing her studies for an associate’s degree and will soon become a pediatric RN.

Elizabeth works with Visions as a youth employment counselor and is responsible for organizing their summer camp. In addition, she works as a guide at Dining in the Dark, a sensory exhibit for sighted people to experience what it’s like to move around without vision. Elizabeth loves to sing, spend time with friends and family, swim, skateboard, roller blade and ride her ten-speed electric scooter.

Tab is already changing her life. She was without a guide dog when her children were young, and she now looks forward to safely navigating the city at night, with Tab keeping her safe.


Darlene Ann Thomson and Alma

Darlene Thomson was matched with Alma, a female yellow Lab and her first guide dog. They return to Darlene’s home in Rhode Island.

Darlene became blind in 2007. She has uveitis, iritis and optic neuritis, which is related to MS. She has a son, and she is currently a student in law school. She loves writing poetry and has been published nationally and internationally.

Darlene decided to get a guide dog after meeting a Guiding Eyes graduate. She learned about the positive impact a dog would have on her overall well-being, including her health and emotional stability. She is looking forward to her son’s wedding; they already arranged with the florist to have Alma’s harness wrapped with flowers. Darlene also looks forward to Alma joining in a fun family tradition; each winter, Darlene and her son freeze a snowball from the first snowfall. When spring comes, they throw the snowball in the backyard. Now Alma can play fetch with it, adding a new dimension to the tradition.