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June 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on June 23.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Michael Fish and Diego

A College Student’s Declaration of Independence

Twenty-one year old Michael Fish, a resident of Machias, New York, was born with retinopathy of prematurity, leaving him sightless at birth. He believes that the structure and training provided by Guiding Eyes are the tools he needs to achieve his life goals. This fall, accompanied by his first Guiding Eyes dog, Diego, Michael will return to Canisius College to continue his studies; his successful graduation will qualify him to be an instructor of the visually impaired. Michael, who was on his high school wrestling team, is an avid hockey fan, runs, loves to read, listens to music and sings in his college choir. Michael is outgoing, understanding, determined and compassionate, and believes that Diego’s playful, yet mellow, laid back and obedient nature will make him an excellent college companion and guide. Michael fully believes and appreciates that Guiding Eyes for the Blind has given him the ability to be more independent and the very help he needs to facilitate his college education and career.

Shari Gootter and Gemma

A Graduate Student, a Mother, and More

Shari Gootter, 42, lost her sight 13 years ago and returns to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, Gemma. She is a resident of Tucson, Arizona, a mother to a teenage son, and leads a busy life. Shari attended California’s Pitzer College, where she received degrees in sociology and psychology, and is now working towards her master’s degree. She enjoys and teaches yoga and works part time at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. Her “take one day at a time” approach to life has served her well, helping her to accept life’s constant changes. Shari is pleased that Gemma took instantly to her outgoing personality, and looks forward to introducing Gemma to her family, friends, and retired Guiding Eyes dog Harper. Guiding Eyes for the Blind continues to meet and exceed Shari’s desire for independence and joyful anticipation of each new day.

Melody Heath and Tilly

U.N.C. Student, Mother, Artist

Twenty-seven-year-old Melody Heath was born with cataracts, and after bouts with glaucoma, and undergoing cornea and retinal cancer surgeries, was totally blind by age 24. Her five-year-old daughter, Arianna, also visually impaired, has a mild form of autism. A resident of Greensboro, North Carolina, Melody is a senior at the University of North Carolina majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies/Public Health. She hopes to earn her master’s in social work and establish a domestic violence shelter specializing in assisting women with disabilities. Melody is multi-talented within a broad spectrum of art forms that includes writings, paintings, sculptures and published photographic pieces. Melody was recommended to Guiding Eyes for the Blind by her fiancé, A.J., a Guiding Eyes graduate. She describes Tilly, her first Guiding Eyes dog, as outgoing, a worker who pays attention, but who also has a joyful flair for play. Tilly already understands that Melody is a gregarious, talkative woman who loves social interaction. Voicing sincere appreciation for Guiding Eyes’ training program, she said: “It’s a show and tell process in which they diligently work with you and ultimately celebrate your success. I know that Tilly and I will work as a team to ensure my total independence and freedom for years to come.”

Lance Huber and Murphy

“Together, We Shall Achieve Victory”

No truer words could be spoken by Lance Huber in referring to his second Guiding Eyes dog, Murphy. Lance, who lives in Riverton, Wyoming, became totally blind 11 years ago as the result of diabetes. He received a B.S. in Social Science and is currently employed as a teacher’s aide in a private Missouri Synod Lutheran school, instructing literature, American history and life science. The 40-year old bachelor came to Guiding Eyes after hearing a Western U.S. field representative speak at a convention in Denver four months after losing his sight. Lance’s initial vocational interest was to become a veterinary technician. His hobbies and activities reflect this: he has been active in 4-H Clubs and judging livestock, and lately has become a dedicated local and national sports enthusiast. Lance has a sharp sense of humor and a bubbly personality, and prides himself in being self-disciplined. Murphy, likewise, is bubbly and affectionate. As Lance continues his career as a teacher’s aide, he looks forward to being assisted in his classrooms by Murphy.

Jessie Lewis and Kabuki

Back for A Sixth Guiding Eyes Dog

Jessie Lewis, 62, is a well-seasoned 37-year veteran of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and has returned to the school for Kabuki, his sixth Guiding Eyes dog. A native of Tennessee, Jessie lost his sight in an accident in 1969. He has been married for 23 years and is a father of three boys and two girls. Jessie was employed as a machine operator until last year, and now is an active member of the Federation for the Blind’s Public Relations Committee. Jessie describes himself as “outgoing, a people person, full of fun,” but adds: “I’m also good at organizing.” He likes to bowl, go to movies and wrestling matches, listen to “old music,” play the guitar (he does an impressive Elvis Presley imitation), and also loves to travel and attend conventions for the blind. “Kabuki,” says Jessie “is great. He understands me and is a real buddy. I think he senses already that he will fit in at home as one of the family, and will also enable me to fulfill my busy extracurricular lifestyle. In fact, I think that Kabuki will become a good recruiter for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. What a great school, what a great dog what a great life. It just can’t get any better than this!”

Danielle Morales and Mica

An Adventurous Journey

Twenty-four year-old Danielle Morales describes her training program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind as an exciting learning experience. Danielle returns here from Ada, Oklahoma for her second dog, Mica. She remains enthusiastic about the school’s quality environment, dogs and instruction. Danielle and her twin sister suffered neurological damage, affecting their vision and hearing, as a result of being borne three months premature. A high school teacher recommended Guiding Eyes to Danielle. With her first Guiding Eyes dog she enrolled in Oklahoma’s East Central University to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources, so that she may teach. There is another side to Danielle she is a creative and innovative artist and musician. She has her own studio, writes and plays keyboard music (she prefers 80s jazz and new age music), does keyboard programming and collects musical equipment from the 80s. She makes original woven pieces, tapestries and jewelry. Although self-described as shy, Danielle likes to be silly and enjoys making new friends. Mica, she says, is also silly, but is calm and focused when working. She knows that Mica will make it easy to travel to wherever she needs to go within the college or city. “Life,” says Danielle, “is an adventurous journey and I love it!”

Karen Murphy and Yorktown

She’s the Cat’s Meow

Karen Murphy hails from Ajax, Ontario and comes to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for the first time as a student in our Special Needs Program. Karen, 48, was born with Usher’s syndrome, which seriously affects one’s ability to see and hear. Her education followed a general business track, but Karen has pursued a special, different type of career. She is a full-time foster mother for orphaned kittens, feeding and nurturing five to ten at a time. She puts them up for adoption when they are eight weeks old. This consumes most of her time and leaves little for hobbies or activities. Karen is a quiet, positive and loving woman who will return home with Yorktown, a large black Lab, who she describes as being a calm, gentle, yet strong and wonderful leader. She anticipates experiencing greater independence and confidence with him as they travel together. She expressed joyful and sincere appreciation to Guiding Eyes for the Blind: “They are wonderful! It was certainly worth the trip!”

Patrick Palmer and Paul

Disability Rights Advocate and Outdoorsman

Patrick Palmer, a fit and active 63-year old from Kansas City, Missouri, has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fourth dog, Paul. Each of his previous three dogs had been with him for close to a decade. Diagnosed when he was 25 with Coat’s disease, Patrick was totally blind by the time he was 33. He is a graduate of Central Missouri State University with a major in sociology and psychology. He is enjoying his second marriage, as well as his two daughters and five grandchildren. Patrick currently serves as a Senior Disability Rights Advocate for Whole Persons, Inc., and is a member of the Heartland Guide Dog Users Group. He loves to travel, walk, water ski, boat and fish. Patrick is assertive and outgoing, and describes “Perfect Paul” as friendly and loving, a dog that likes to please and plays and works with vigor. Reflecting on his relationship with Guiding Eyes for the Blind through three decades, Patrick says: “The atmosphere is more positive than ever, the staff (as always) is wonderful, the facilities are much improved, and the careful and selective breeding of the dogs is superior.”

Andrew Reese and Lava

Life Begins at 40

Andrew Reese of Somerset, New Jersey comes to Guiding Eyes for the Blind after 40 years of living without a dog. He was born with optic atrophy, and has partial loss of both his hearing and sight. He believes that he will be a more effective social worker with the help of a Guiding Eyes dog. He was confident that he would be accepted into the Guiding Eyes Special Needs Program, in spite of his dual disabilities. Andrew earned a B.A. in sociology and a master’s degree in social work from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He loves to read, walk, enjoys music and sporting events (he’s a Yankees fan). He describes himself as compassionate and respectful of others; he likes to be around people and is interested in what they have to say. Lava, his new Guiding Eyes dog, is laid back and obedient, but Andrew believes he is also “volcanic enough” to energize him. Andrew is overwhelmed with anticipation at being able to live and travel independently. He is sure that Lava will be a hit with his senior clients. Of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Andrew smiles as he proclaims, “There’s no place on earth like this – it’s out of this world!”

Angela Trahan and Watson

A Caterer and Writer with Energy to Spare

Angie (Angela) Trahan is highly energetic and has a seemingly unquenchable zest for life. Her talents and interests are diverse: she is pursuing courses in psychology, is a superb cook, and manages her own catering business. She writes fiction and non-fiction historical pieces and poetry, and when she has time to get outdoors, enjoys working in her garden. She has been married 14 years, has two children and one step-daughter. Angie has been partnered at Guiding Eyes for the Blind with Watson, a dog she describes as “cool as a cucumber, affectionate and attentive. We ‘groove’ together!” Angie, 32, admits to having wanted a dog for years. She was spurred to enroll by a friend’s recommendation, who described the school as having high quality dogs and training, and a superb reputation. She anticipates that Watson’s impact on her life will be immeasurable. “My life will do a 180! I feel as though I have embarked on a brand new journey toward success. Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides a level of care, detail and individual attention that is simply unbelievable! Boy, am I glad that I came!”

Carolyn (C.J.) Watson and Kahlua

Courage and Determination Pay

A six-time cancer survivor, C.J. (Carolyn) Watson returned this month to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her third dog, Kahlua. A long-time resident of Greenville, North Carolina, C.J. was 17 months old when she was diagnosed with retinal blastoma. By the age of three, she was totally blind. Now 22, C.J. is a purpose-driven and talented young woman who did not allow physical adversity and disability to get in her way. C.J. conducted intense internet research about Guiding Eyes when her mobility instructor recommended the school to her. C.J. has a B.A. in piano performance and is now working towards her master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling. She loves writing music and playing the piano, sings and plays for her church’s worship team, and enjoys swimming, hiking and sculpting. C.J. describes herself as passionate, compassionate, outgoing, and “bouncy,” and Kahlua shares C.J.;s ebullience and joie de vivre. Kahula, C.J. contends, has an ear for music – Kahlua mimics C.J.’s hand motions on the piano. C.J. uses one word to sum up her experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, “amazing.” She adds, “I love it here it’s a home away from home.”