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July 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on July 21.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Hiram Arroya and Sparky

I Can’t Wait to Share My Experience

Hiram Arroyo, 58-year-old retired insurance claims adjuster, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind all the way from Caguas, Puerto Rico, to receive his first Guiding Eyes dog, Sparky. Hiram’s sight loss is due to glaucoma that occurred following heart surgery four years ago. It didn’t take long for Hiram to investigate how to live a full life in spite of his loss. The advice he sought came from a rehabilitation counselor at the Veterans Hospital in Puerto Rico, who advised him to contact Guiding Eyes. Married for 37 years and proud father of two, Hiram is a quiet, fair man who listens to others and respects their opinions. He says that Sparky is a lot like himself: quiet, well behaved and affectionate. Hiram expects that they will exercise, socialize and travel the streets together as a great team. “I will get out more and experience what the world holds I can’t wait to share that experience of rescue and contentment with other blind folk at the V.A. Hospital. My experience here at Guiding Eyes has been sensational far greater than my expectations. It has given me a renewed appreciation of my surroundings!”

William Baer and Osage

A Seasoned Teacher, Now a Student

Brookline, Massachusetts is the home of Billy (William) Baer, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his very first dog, Osage. Billy has retinitis pigmentosa, and has some residual vision; Billy frankly admits that entrusting his life and safety completely to Osage will be a goal that he must achieve. Guiding Eyes was highly recommended to Billy by a personal friend who had received his second dog from the school. With two graduate degrees from Boston College under his belt, Billy taught high school trigonometry and calculus to 11th and 12th graders for 13 years. He loves music, and had played alto/soprano sax and even studied at the Berkley College of Music; he abandoned music as a career because of his diminishing sight. Now, at the age of 44, he must create yet another new life for himself. Self described as positive, sensitive, empathetic and a good listener, Billy says that he has become the recipient of a sweet, responsive, precious, Guiding Eyes partner who will not only give him guidance but companionship. Oh yes, Osage has not been told as yet that he will have four cats as housemates.

Blaine Deutscher and Dewey

A Red-headed Pace Setter

Blaine Deutscher is a 19-year-old student from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada who has set high goals for himself. Born with retinopathy of prematurity and developing glaucoma at the age of three, Blaine is an ambitious, outgoing, inquisitive and sociable teenager who knows who he is and what he wants to be. Blaine came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon the strong recommendation of a friend followed by an encouraging response from the school. His Guiding Eyes dog Dewey will accompany him to college in January. Blaine hopes to earn a degree in law or perhaps journalism. Golf, bowling, curling, reading and stamp collecting are his favorite downtime activities. Blaine lives by himself, and feels that Dewey will be a great companion, with his laid back, rather sedate nature; but Dewey’s adept and strong guiding skills will encourage Blaine to get out a lot more with a feeling of safety and confidence. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is like ‘home’ – in fact, it’s better. I don’t have to cook here and what service! We are all one! A whole new world has suddenly opened up for me!”Lance Huber and Murphy

Joseph Furber and King

A Gift of Independence

Joseph Furber, from Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba, Canada, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon the strong recommendation of his brother, who is employed by Canada’s National Institute for the Blind. Joseph was born with retinitis pigmentosa and his already blurred vision worsened through the years. Joseph, 45, is a retired elementary school teacher. He and his wife of six years have a daughter in first grade. A man of many diverse interests, Joseph exercises, walks, likes watching golf and other sports, listens to books on tape (especially autobiographical pieces), and is in the process of learning Braille. Joseph’s outward demeanor makes him seem like a man of few words, although Joseph admits to being a bit “goofy” at times. He describes his Guiding Eyes dog King as being somewhat laid back, playful, a bit stubborn, but when in harness, shows who is boss. “Being here at Guiding Eyes has been nothing less than a positive, kind, encouraging and amazing experience. If something you’re doing can be improved upon, it is always stated in a positive manner. Thank you, Guiding Eyes. You have given me the gift of independence – now I will be able to do so many more things with my life!”

Twalla Gipson and Nova

Good Things Are Worth Waiting For

DeKalb, Illinois is the home of 32-year-old Twalla Gipson, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her second dog, Nova. Twalla was partially blind at birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, but finally lost all sense of color and light at the age of 13. Twalla aspires to some day becoming a teacher. For the present, however, she has a very special hobby. While Twalla loves to listen to book tapes, she, more than anything, enjoys putting jigsaw puzzles together, which she does entirely by feel. Reminiscing a bit about her first puzzle project, she recalls that it had 100 pieces, but she has since progressed far from that. When the puzzles are finished, she glues them together, and hangs them as pictures. Twalla, who describes her own personality as cheerful, and an encouraging listener, says that Nova is a gentle, sweet, quiet dog, but a most precise and effective leader. She enjoys that people are drawn to her in conversation when accompanied by her dog, and that she certainly is more confident in broadening her scope of travel. Her praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind is effusive and she loudly claims with strong conviction: “I shouldn’t have waited so long!”

Cheryl Lacasse and Olay

She’s Always Chasing Rainbows

Cheryl Lacasse traveled from Santa Maria, California for Olay, her third dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Cheryl was born with retinopathy of prematurity, which was diagnosed when she was four months old. Cheryl came to Guiding Eyes as the result of the strong recommendations of her mobility instructor. Cheryl, 40, describes herself as a happy-go-lucky, organized and responsible person who greets every day in anticipation of new experiences, adventure and fulfillment. She loves to do office work, is interested in animal training, movies and eating, and exercises daily by walking and taking spins on her exercise bike. Cheryl describes Olay as affectionate, playful and a hard worker; Olay will join a Chihuahua and cat in her new home. Cheryl calls herself “a rainbow chaser,” a moniker that epitomizes her positive and free-spirited approach to life. She readily recognizes that Guiding Eyes for the Blind has truly made it possible for her to fulfill her search for the “pot of gold.”

Kirsten MacPeek and Sloan

Tale of a True Animal Lover

Kristen MacPeek, from Williamsville, New York, has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Sloan, her fourth Guiding Eyes dog. Kristen was born with congenital sight loss and has some partial vision. Guiding Eyes was initially recommended by her blind husband of 11 years who had received his dog from the school. Kristen suffers from a degenerative disc disease and has had many surgeries. Now, after spending 18 months without a guide dog, Kristen knows that Sloan will motivate for her to go out more to enjoy the outside world. Kristen’s “inside world” is virtually an animal kingdom all of its own. In addition to their own four dogs, she and her husband have three adopted cats, three ferrets, a guinea pig, and a fish aquarium. She volunteers for the Humane Society, is a foster mom for stray cats, and evaluates sick and injured animals for treatment. Kristen cites Sloan as a “Godsend” for her. “He is naughty, fun and an excellent guide. Guiding Eyes always comes through with their training program for dogs and students alike. I don’t believe there is another school in the whole world like this one! “

Kari Rodgers and Felix

A New Sense of Confidence and Freedom

Kari Rodgers was born and raised deep in the heart of Texas, but moved to Somerville, Massachusetts two years ago. Now 24, Kari has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Felix. She was born with Stargardts disease, a rare form of macular dystrophy; Kari was not diagnosed until she was 16. Kari came to Guiding Eyes upon the advice of her mobility instructor. Kari has taken some college courses, but now three months pregnant with her second child, her education has been placed on the back burner. Kari admittedly is quiet, reserved and rather shy. She is a good cook (enchiladas, her specialty) has just taken up knitting, and enjoys playing with her son, Tucker. Kari also likes to listen to books on tape, and aspires to becoming a writer some day. Felix is a quiet, yet social and rambunctious companion and above all, an excellent guide. Kari is unafraid now about her future, for she knows that Felix will fill her life with a sense of confidence and freedom. “Everyone at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, from trainers to students, is friendly and open. I feel that I am a real part of the family here.”

Robert (Doc) Shive and Otto

“Doc” Minds, His Business

Robert Shive, MD (“just call me Doc”) is a 73-year old retired diagnostic psychiatrist who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his third dog, Otto. Doc was born with retinitis pigmentosa, which progressed through grade school and beyond, and finally claimed his total vision 13 years ago. The advice of Doc’s mobility instructor, and later that of a regional volunteer for Guiding Eyes, led him to the school. Doc earned his medical degrees from Davidson College, North Carolina School of Medicine and The Medical College of Georgia. Now retired but struggling a bit as to how to spend his time, Doc has many varied interests: he is a potter, works with ceramics, loves fishing and kayaking, works in his garden with vegetables and roses, and enjoys listening to tapes. His most recent undertaking is acquiring some advanced computer skills. Doc, a dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterian, is by nature an outgoing, upbeat person who says he “never meets a stranger.” He claims Otto is sensitive and like himself, is intuitive and a really “cool dog!” Otto will join Thistle, Doc’s Guiding Eye retiree at home. Doc’s experienced judgment hails Guiding Eyes trainers as being truly patient and positive – “they know how to cheer you on to accomplishment.”

Sean Terry and Chipper

A Man of Few Words Speaks Out

Sean Terry is a 22-year-old resident of Ada, Oklahoma who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Chipper. He was born with retinopathy of prematurity, and has some ability to discern light and shadows. He also has cerebral palsy. Sean came to Guiding Eyes through the advice of friends. Sean is in his first year at East Central University in Ada studying for a degree that will qualify him to work in the field of Rehabilitation for the Blind. Sean describes himself as a “man of few words,” and yet has many interests: he loves to play music, works the internet, does audio production, listens to books on tape, is an avid dog lover and enjoys walking. Sean and Chipper bonded immediately with their common personality traits: they both are outgoing, social and playful, but very serious when at work. Sean has a deep confidence in his Guiding Eyes partner; he knows he will be able to assume a faster pace with more certainty. “I’m having a great time here at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Learning the commands is not only productive, but fun, the food is great and the class is super.”

Israel Torres and Gobi

A Life-Changing Event

Israel Torres from Croton-on-Hudson, New York is currently a senior at Nyack Missionary College, majoring in Psychology. Israel came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Gobi, upon the advice of his last foster mom. Israel was born in 1980 in Buffalo, New York with retinopathy of prematurity that was diagnosed when he was three months old. Israel, who is now 26, is eager to share the story of his life, beginning with the death of his birth father when he was three and continuing through his experiences in an orphanage and subsequent series of foster care homes. At the age of 14, he was diagnosed as having a psychiatric illness. However, it was the last of these foster families that introduced Israel to God. At first, Israel rejected what he heard, but finally embraced the idea that in spite of the cruel tragedies of a life out of his control, God loved him and had a better plan for his life. Israel is a young man of many talents and interests: he likes to work out, plays the piano and drums, sings and has recently become a motivational public speaker, sharing his life’s journey from despair to joy. Gobi and Israel are well matched with their energetic, enthusiastic, strong and effective personalities. Israel knows that Gobi will make it much easier for him to move about the Nyack campus and will be a wonderful companion as well. Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Israel says: “It’s hard to describe. I’m so glad to be here. They do everything in their power to make it all work for you. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!”

Caitlin Webb and Iowa

Words of Wisdom from the Young

Caitlin Webb, from Louisville, Kentucky, celebrated her 17th birthday during her second week at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, where she received the best gift of all: a black male Labrador named Iowa. Born with retinopathy of prematurity, Caitlin lost most of her sight by the time she was in the ninth grade. Caitlin chose Guiding Eyes through a presentation she had heard at summer camp and a research article she subsequently wrote on the school for her English class. With one more year to go in high school, Caitlin, who plays the piano, has an avid interest in music. She would some day like to write fiction. Swimming, listening to music, using her computer and learning Braille are among her other favorite pastimes. Caitlin is an outgoing teenager, gets along with people, and is determined to reach her goals. Iowa likewise is frisky, but a calm and trustworthy leader. Caitlin is grateful that when she goes home she will experience added freedom and flexibility; she also knows that her parents will have more confidence in her well being with Iowa at her side. Praising her experience here, Caitlin exclaimed: “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a great school; the training is superb and it’s all accomplished in a warm family atmosphere.”

Cindy Weinzierl and Bonnie

Special Ed Teacher Gives Guiding Eyes an A+

Cindy Weinzierl has returned to Guiding Eyes from Chicago, Illinois for her third guide dog, Bonnie. She was born 52 years ago with retinopathy of prematurity, but it was not until 23 years later that Cindy lost her total sight as a result of an automobile accident. Married and a busy mother of two teenagers, Cindy is a veteran special education teacher for Chicago’s public school integrated program for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The position requires her to travel daily city-wide from school to school. It was the ever-shifting city landscape, environmental changes that lessened traffic noise and other unforeseen obstacles that caused Cindy to realize she needed help. After conducting a comprehensive internet survey of various schools, Cindy ultimately chose Guiding Eyes upon the glowing recommendation of a Guiding Eyes graduate. Food is the key subject of Cindy’s recreational interests in vegetable gardening, watching the Food Network, or experimenting with culinary creations of her own. Cindy has an outgoing, determined, inquisitive and sharing nature and she already knows that Bonnie will be a perfect fit for her as a loving companion and energetic leader as they navigate the busy streets of Chicago together. Cindy holds tremendous admiration and gratitude for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, where she is considered both as a member of a loving and caring family, and also treated as a special individual.