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January 2017 Graduating Class

January 2017


Kudos to the dedicated team of instructors and to all the extraordinary puppy raisers.
Best of luck to the graduates! Your new canine partners will be tremendous additions to your lives.

– Larry Kaiser


We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our
video streaming capabilities.

 Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:

Christopher and Krieger
Crystal and Robbie (S)
Donald and Teddy (S)
Dustin and Vincent (P)
Edwin and Peru
Gary and Vixen
Himelda and Holden
Joseph and Pruitt
Mark and Malcolm
Phacion and Otto


HOME Training

Carl and Travis
Desiree and Inez
Kathryn and Agnes
Laura and Yahtzee
Leonard (Keith) and Jasper
Marco and Elise
Mary and Elaine (P)
Walter and Fate


P: A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes for the Blind in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.

S:  The donors listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dogs:


Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our instructors:

Class Supervisor:
Jolene Hollister

Class Instructors:
Michelle Tang
Shannon McGee

Apprentice Instructor:
Deanna Lentini

Instructor Assistant:
Katherine Russell

ACTION Training:
Graham Buck, Assistant Director of Training

HOME Training:
James Gardner, Director – Home Training
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training Instructor
Julie Angle, Special Needs Instructor
Jessy DiNapoli, Special Needs Instructor
Dave Hagemann, Field Representative
Michael Goehring, Field Representative

Special Needs Instructor
Andrea Martine

Puppy Raisers/Regions

Holden – Karen and Larry Best, Cleveland East
Krieger – Paul and Leslie Bollea, Dominion VA
Malcom – Nicole Viveiros, Maine
Megan Carroll, Maine
Otto – The Rand Family, Central CT
Peru – The Niebauer Family, Cleveland East
JoAnn and David Schindler, Cleveland East
Pruitt – Dan and Aimee Muller, Capital NY
Robbie – Mackenzie Lautenschlager, Central NY
Teddy – Val and Jim Hazlin, Eastern CT
Vincent – Cindy and Stu Chait, Monroe NY
Alyssa & Nathan Pogal, Monroe NY
Robbie (has 2 raisers) Maribeth Stolfi, CCT
Vixen – Camille and Hannah Clifford

Home Training

Agnes – Joan Hofelzer-Roepke, Cleveland West
The Schwartz Family, Cleveland West
Elaine –  Barbara Keyes, Delmarva DE
Elise – Mallory Busso, Cleveland West
Jeannie Neary, Cleveland East
Fate – Leah Morgan Friedman, Fingerlakes NY
Inez – Christina Strubbe, Maine
Jasper – Lynn Stas, Eastern MA
Travis – The Gravelding Family, Leatherstocking NY
Yahtzee – Rachel Evanowski, Fingerlakes NY


Christopher and KriegerC. O' Meally & Krieger

Suffering from a cornea disorder since birth, Christopher lost all vision in his right eye after his body rejected a transplant. A Contract Closeout Specialist for the Department of Defense, he’s a tech enthusiast who does IT work on the side and also uploads product tutorials to the web. In his free time, Chris—who used to build gaming computers to help pay his way through college—enjoys producing music for himself and others, and working out at the gym.

Chris’s first dog from Guiding Eyes, Eden, is now retired with Krieger taking over. Reflecting on the role guides have played in his life, Chris explains, “It’s almost like having a kid.” He enjoys the discipline and sense of responsibility that having a guide involves, and also makes a powerful observation on the difference between a dog and a cane: “Your cane can’t make decisions for you, it can’t bond with you, it can’t read your body language and what you want to do, it can’t alert you to things that your cane might not find … donating to Guiding Eyes is really keeping a whole lot of people safe.”


Crystal and RobbieC. Johnson & Robbie

When she was 17 and the new mother of a baby girl, Crystal began having eye problems which ultimately led to a diagnosis of Uveitis. Now, age 29, she has lived without sight—and without seeing her daughter, who’s now 11—for 10 years. A singer and aspiring producer, music has been both a passion and a source of comfort in Crystal’s life. Her first guide, Robbie, will be by her side when she enrolls in community college in Las Vegas later this year to immerse herself in her craft. “That’s my buddy,” Crystal says, a big smile coming to her face as she reflects on the joy and confidence that Robbie has already brought her.

Crystal found out about Guiding Eyes for the Blind through a friend who herself has a dog from our organization.  Regarding her experience with the staff and trainers—“I never thought people actually existed that cared,” Crystal says. “The people that donated have already changed my life.”


Donald and TeddyD. Barnes & Teddy

“I work to travel,” says Donald, who has been on the staff of MGM Resorts in Las Vegas for a lucky number of years—21. Donald suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 15. But that certainly hasn’t stopped him from venturing out—way out. Donald can count Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Belgium, and the Netherlands on his list of recent vacation spots. For his 50th birthday next year, Ireland and Scotland just might be in the cards.

A lifelong learner, Donald recently graduated with his MBA from Purdue University, where he also obtained his undergraduate degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management. Family time is important, too, and Donald’s parents and brother all live close by. Now he’s excited to welcome his second Guiding Eyes dog, Teddy, into the clan. And if the past is any indication, Teddy has some exciting trips in his future, too—Donald took his first guide, Linden, to Hawaii on three separate occasions. Lucky dog!


Dustin and VincentD.  Lee Johnson & Vincent

In his final year of high school, Dustin—who was born with congenital glaucoma, and lost all sight in his left eye due to retina detachment at age 12—got his first taste of what life with a guide could offer, when he was selected to participate in a weeklong Leader Dogs for the Blind experience session. Completely taken with the yellow lab he worked with there, Dustin recalls, “By the end of that trip, I didn’t want to give him up.”

Now, age 24, Dustin has a dog he doesn’t have to give up…Vincent—his very first guide from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Dustin is looking forward to taking Vincent home with him to Omaha, where he takes pride in his work at a nonprofit paper products company called Outlook Nebraska. “Everybody’s been so supportive and willing to help,” Dustin notes of his experience with the Guiding Eyes staff. He also wants to give a shout out to the puppy raisers, for giving him and his classmates the opportunity to enjoy the unique companionship and confidence that comes with having a wonderful new guide.


Eddie and PeruE. Martinez & Peru.

It’s hard not to be moved or inspired when meeting Eddie. Born DeafBlind, Eddie has always faced challenges head-on and continues to maintain an optimistic attitude toward life.

In his early days, Eddie went to a mainstream elementary school where the teachers were trained in sign language and knew how to effectively work with and teach students with special needs. After a few years he transferred to the well-known Perkins School for the Blind. “It wasn’t always hard. I was able to really catch up at Perkins,” Eddie says proudly.

A graduate of Gallaudet University—the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students—Eddie earned not one, but two bachelor’s degrees: one in Psychology and the other in Communications. Today Eddie works at TCS Associates, where he teaches DeafBlind consumers technology skills and how to read Braille. When Eddie isn’t working, he enjoys the internet and especially social media. He also enjoys reading and taking long walks with friends.

After finding out about Guiding Eyes through a resource that helps the blind and deaf, Eddie did his own research and was impressed with their philosophy. He wants people to know that partnering with Peru—his first guide dog—has made a huge difference in his life. “It’s so different from using a cane, they aren’t similar at all. And thanks to Peru and Guiding Eyes, I’ve got a lot of positive energy and happiness”.


Gary and VixenG. Bergman & Vixen

Gary was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age three, so legal blindness has always been a part of his life. By the end of high school he had very little usable vision, but his academic focus was strong, and he completed a pre-collegiate arts program at Northwestern, followed by college and then music school out west. Gary was teaching guitar when he moved to New York City at age 30—and it’s still the place he calls home. You might remember seeing Gary and his first dog, Vasco, in a Guiding Eyes promo film. Vasco is now going on 12 years old and will remain with Gary and his partner, Tina, in retirement.

A Licensed Massage Therapist with both private and commercial clients, Gary is looking forward to many adventures around the city with his new guide, Vixen, who he considers both a teammate and a friend. Speaking of the sense of loss, abandonment, fear and anxiety that a life without sight can bring, Gary says, “All that goes away the second you put the handle in your hand, and you realize it’s all possible again.”


Himelda and HoldenH. Mendez & Holden

For Himelda—who was born with congenital cataracts and later developed glaucoma—two important relationships have defined life in recent times: she spent 7 years caring for her cancer-stricken roommate and friend (a teacher for the visually impaired who taught Himelda English, Braille, and the Nemeth code); and she also benefited from the companionship of her first guide, Custer, who was retired last year after 11.5 years in her service.

Himelda works part-time for VISIONS Services for the Blind, and spent two years going to Queensboro community college in New York. Speaking of that time in her life—traveling back and forth for classes—Himelda reflects on the practical benefits of having a guide: “They know you’re going somewhere, they know you gotta get there, and they help you find it.” With Custer by her side, she was never late to class. As for Holden, her new guide, she already feels a connection: “This morning, my alarm went off and I didn’t roll over and say, ‘Let me sleep some more’; I said, ‘I gotta get up, because Holden needs to go out!’”


Joseph and PruittJ. Mauk & Pruitt

Joseph was born diabetic, but it wasn’t till he fell into a coma at age 10 that his condition was explained. Told he wouldn’t live long, Joseph—now 54—clearly beat the odds. Life was by no means easy, though: he had to leave high school early and start working, and hard manual labor was what was recommended to help him manage his condition. After a kidney and pancreas transplant in July 2004, Joe is thankful to no longer be considered diabetic.

Nowadays Joseph spends his time giving back to others by serving as a life skills instructor to military veterans who also have sight issues: “For a lot of these guys, I don’t charge anything; they did their part.” In his own life, trips to the grocery store and innumerable other things were made easier thanks to his first Guiding Eyes dog, Roxanne, who he lived with for seven years. Recently retired, Roxanne (who could identify over 100 items in their local grocery store) is going to teach Joe’s new dog, Pruitt, a few priceless tricks—before heading on back to live with her raiser, Cindy Tait.

Joseph is a pretty prolific writer these days, having produced pieces for Guiding Eyes, Guide Dog Users, and other organizations. “These dogs make it possible for us to be productive, to live full lives,” Joseph says. “It’s life again.”


Mark and MalcolmM.Montgomery & Malcolm

You might say Mark is on a roll: he recently completed his 10th “century” bicycle ride (that’s 100 miles on wheels!), a goal he’d challenged himself to reach before arriving at the half century mark—age 50—himself. If you’re wondering how he does it, Mark—who lost all vision by age 2½ due to a form of cancer called Retinoblastoma—rides with a pilot on a tandem bike. He’s raised money for the Diabetes Foundation on the Tour de Cure, and hopes to compete in either the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge or the Sunrise Century next.

Malcolm is Mark’s sixth dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind (reciting all their names in chronological order comes pretty easily to Mark). In his own words, Malcolm is “a dream.” And as for the organization that’s helped make his dreams possible: “It is such an outstanding organization in that it gives the blind or visually impaired the opportunity to expand their horizons … if you have a guide with you, you can go anywhere and do anything.” Mark truly appreciates the opportunity that he’s been given, and thinks of the Guiding Eyes staff as family: “You go away for ten years, and it’s like coming home.”


Phacion and OttoP. McClennon & Otto

Since 2009, Phacion has been struggling with Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has led to complete loss of sight in his left eye, and tunnel vision in his right. But that didn’t stop him from adding to his already impressive list of accomplishments—which includes being an ordained minister, husband to a “wonderfully wonderful” woman, and the proud owner of a condominium in the Bronx.

Phacion is also enrolled in Lehman College to study sociology. After graduating this coming spring, Phacion is heading to graduate school for social work. In fact, it was one of his classmates that put Phacion on the path to securing his first dog, Otto, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Phacion appreciates the sense of freedom and security that Otto offers him—not to mention the companionship. “In our play time, I just come alive … it takes me from that place of imprisonment, of sorrow … to a wholesome life…”


HOME Training

Mary and ElaineMary

When Mary was 4 years old, she fell from a second story porch onto a concrete slab and then down concrete stairs. A traumatic brain injury, internal injuries, a seizure disorder and after 6 months in the hospital, unexplained blindness.

Working as a Nanny, for two little boys Mary is a triple threat by helping with her church music program, singing at services and playing instruments as well.

In the past Mary has worked with school reading programs, soup kitchens and food banks. She also volunteers time to her church.

Lorna, Mary’s first guide dog was her whole life until Lorna became seriously ill. While waiting for Lorna to recover, once again Mary was house bound and not feeling very confident. “Upon her return I was able to get back to life and travelling again.”

With Elaine (Laine) Mary’s second guide dog, it was an instant match. “She is playful and outgoing, just what I need. She has my sense of humor”. As a nanny, Mary visits museums, zoos, community centers, city centers, gyms and stores daily, and Lanie is always on her best behavior.  “She is my wings – guiding and protecting me. We are both free to do what we want as a team.”

“Guiding Eyes has given me back my life. I no longer sit at home waiting for a care provider to come in with my meds and help care for me. I now work, travel, participate in my community. Lorna and Lanie have given me back my ability to contribute. Guiding Eyes should be supported so that dreams can come true for all blind people.”