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July 2008 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated in July 2008.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Andre Anderson and Val

A college student with sights on law school

Andre Anderson, 35, came from Ohio for his first guide dog, Val (Valentine). He lost his sight two years ago as the result of diabetic retinopathy. Andre is a student at Cleveland State University with a career goal of becoming an attorney. He loves to walk, go to the movies and listen to audio books, but also finds total enjoyment and satisfaction in working on his computer and studying. He discovered in Val an obedient yet playful disposition that will serve him well on his college campus. His guide’s instinctive nature and excellent training will afford Andre more freedom, independence, confidence and ease of travel to facilitate his busy life. “Guiding Eyes,” says Andre “is a family organization that not only teaches, but understands and is most attentive to the needs of each and every student. From here, one does not look back, but is given the facility to look forward with confidence.”

Katelin Archer and Norris

College freshman studying communication disorders

Katelin Archer is 18 years old and hails from Pennsylvania. She came to Guiding Eyes for her first guide dog, Norris. Born blind from an undetermined cause, Katelin regained limited sight until she was 12, when it began to diminish substantially. She is enrolled at Central Michigan University, majoring in the field of communication disorders. She is an avid science buff, especially enjoys TV’s Discovery and History channels, likes to read, and crochets afghans. Katelin lives at home and is the youngest of four children. She is most grateful for her new canine guide, Norris, a handsome German shepherd who has already become her sweetheart; he is truly a gentle, playful, energetic and instinctive leader that encourages her feelings of confidence and independence. Citing Guiding Eyes’ staff as “incredible,” she extols their understanding and care for each student and cites their efforts to do everything in their power to make your experience a successful one.

Kayla Bentas and Haiku

A teenager already helping others achieve their dreams

Kayla Bentas, a 17-year old high school senior, became blind at the age of nine as the result of a benign brain tumor. She came from Massachusetts for her first Guiding Eyes dog, Haiku. The youngest in this month’s class, Kayla is effusive in her enthusiasm for Guiding Eyes. Kayla has formed a nonprofit organization called “Kayla’s Vision,” that has to-date raised over $50,000 for grants and scholarships to enable other blind students to realize their own personal goals. Citing her mom and her vision teacher as her personal heroines, Kayla herself is a quick study: it took her but four months to learn Braille. Haiku is a friendly and tail-wagging guide dog that loves to play but most importantly, a hardworking partner in harness. “How can I express my thanks for Guiding Eyes for the Blind? They have restored my confidence in what I can achieve!”

Barbara Grigger and Okie

Author with MS finds strength in God and her Guiding Eyes dog

Barbara Grigger strongly states that her multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed in 1998, has strengthened her fighting spirit not only to survive, but to serve God and others. Now, at age 62, Barbara has come to Guiding Eyes for her second guide dog, Okie. She had been married 42 years when her husband passed two months ago. She has give children and is presently living with her son and his wife in Arizona. A New Jersey resident for many years, Barbara was a longtime commercial reporter for the Garden State and was referred to Guiding Eyes by Joseph Kahn, her mobility instructor at the New Jersey School for the Blind. Barbara describes herself as quiet, but outgoing especially when speaking about her faith in God and her personal battle with MS. A current student of Braille, she enjoys singing in her church choir, writing, crocheting, knitting, using her computer, and walking around the local mall for exercise; she has also written a Christian novel, My First Love, and now seeks a publisher. Barbara, who had been without a guide dog for two years, anticipates that Okie, with his inquisitive, playful, yet work-oriented personality, will enhance her life immeasurably.

David Grimes and Kendall

Bird songs and church music provide inspiration for three-time Guiding Eyes graduate

A seasoned Guiding Eyes alum, midwesterner David Grimes returned to the school for Kendall, his third guide dog. He has been blind since birth from retinopathy of prematurity, and at age 21, followed the sage advice of a former Guiding Eyes for the Blind field representative and instantly applied here for his first canine guide. He received his B.A. from Cleveland State University and has been employed for the last ten years by the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. David says that he loves to listen to the intriguing language of the birds in his area, and is both fascinated and inspired by their identifying calls and songs. David and his wife of six years Rhonda are active in their church and its musical program. David describes Kendall as a happy and eager-to-please canine who is an excellent leader, and anticipates that he will be a great personal assistant at work, at church, on hikes and in crowds.

Madeline Perotti and Razzle

Dreams of independence with a Guiding Eyes dog motivates Arizonian to take first airplane trip

Madeline Perotti, 58, had never left her hometown, and had never traveled by plane. It took all her courage and determination to travel to Yorktown Heights from her home in Arizona. Her blindness was caused by a detached retina resulting from a mild stroke two years ago; her ophthalmologist suggested that she come to Guiding Eyes. A divorced mother of two girls, both now in their 30s, Madeline has run the gamut of occupations in her gold and silver mining town: mechanic, home health care, and work at a rest home for elderly county patients. She loves to garden, camp and cook, and has been a loyal American “Legionairesss” for 29 years. She says that Razzle, her handsome blonde Lab, is obedient, loving and a great worker and that he is a “God send” that will broaden her horizons significantly. Was coming to New York as great a trial as she anticipated? “No, I’m so glad I came – my life has been completely changed.”

Elizabeth Watkins and Taz

Bookkeeper and office manager, horsewoman and church volunteer embraces first Guiding Eyes dog

Elizabeth (Betsy) Watkins, age 30, is a wife and mother of three girls, ages 6, 10 and 12. She came from a mid-size town in Kentucky to Guiding Eyes for her first guide dog, Taz. After experiencing sight loss two years ago, due to a swelling in her brain (cause unknown), she researched schools on the internet and followed the experienced advice of a Guiding Eyes graduate. Betsy credits her mother for being a major positive influence in her life; “She’s always been there for me; she is my best friend.” With two associate degrees in accounting and management under her belt, Betsy works as a bookkeeper and office manager. She aspires to return to school for a social service degree, and then work with unmarried pregnant women and adoption parenting. Betsy is also a horsewoman and enjoys camping, swimming, volunteer work at church and school, and attending Bible studies. She knows that Taz will be a tremendous asset in getting her around a town that has no sidewalks. Betsy is in awe of the number of employees and volunteers at Guiding Eyes, the technology available, and every aspect of the Guiding Eyes program that, she says, is performed perfectly at every level.