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June 2008 Graduating Class

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

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Lynnea Bebo and Henry

Lynnea Bebo returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Henry, her third guide dog from the school. Born with retinoblastoma 37 years ago, Lynnea was drawn to the school initially because of its excellent puppy raising program, reputation for commitment to successful training techniques, and attention to the specific needs of each student.

Lynnea received her BA from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, and is a certified teacher of the visually impaired in the New York area. Lynnea loves to knit, do crossword puzzles, and read mysteries. She swims and walks on the treadmill for daily physical exercise. Her new guide Henry is calm, sensitive and quick to respond. Lynnea expects that he will be most valuable in helping her to go to new work locations as required; as she put it, “People view the blind with respect when they see them with a guide dog.” She also appreciated the comfort and warmth she experienced as a Guiding Eyes student: “The facility’s building expansion, innovative additions to the training program, state-of-the-art instruction and the food – all are simply phenomenal.”

David Caldwell and Owen

David Caldwell came from Pennsylvania for his third Guiding Eyes dog, Owen. David, 69, admits (with a slight grin) that even though, at age 24, he was already legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, he drove trailer trucks. Having earned a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, David left his chosen career as a teacher to return home to care for his aging parents.

He and his wife, who likes to refer to their initial meeting as a “blind date,” recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. They are foster parents, and together they have cared for more than two dozen children with social challenges and special needs. David takes pleasure and pride in his cabinet and furniture business, which he runs out of his garage workshop. He also tutors three days per week for a local vocational rehab facility. Owen, David’s affectionate bundle of energy, will join four Shih Tzu pups plus his Guiding Eyes predecessor, now retired. David is pleased with the bonding that has already taken place with Owen and, as always, praises Guiding Eyes for its excellent training. “Life,” David exclaims, “just can’t get any better than this.”

Kelvin Crosby and Jerry

Kelvin Crosby, age 20, lost both vision and hearing to Usher’s Syndrome, Type 2. He came to Guiding Eyes for his first dog, Jerry. Kelvin spent six months at the Helen Keller National Center on Long Island prior to coming into class here. He chose Guiding Eyes for the school’s reputation and proximity to HKNC. He makes his home in California, and will attend college, with a broad-based college curriculum to include therapy, counseling, and the fine arts.

While at Guiding Eyes, Kelvin composed an oil painting of “breaking surf” taken from a picture of Long Island Sound he presented this painting as a gift to the school at graduation. In describing his work, he told the graduation audience that he did not use black because now, with Jerry at his side, he “sees” only light and hope in his life.

Kelvin is an avid surfer and also likes to hike. He cherishes his church fellowship and enjoys being with friends, hoping to positively impact their lives. Kelvin anticipates being proud and confident of “who he is” with Jerry at his side.

Brenda Elliot and Comet

Brenda Elliot was born 39 years ago with cortical blindness caused by a lesion in the brain. Returning from Massachusetts for Comet, her fourth Guiding Eyes dog, Brenda says she chose the school for its home-like atmosphere, the quality of its dogs and reinforced instructional methods, which are intended to ensure each student’s success.

Brenda was a telemarketer for the Epilepsy Foundation until the birth of her daugher, Sequoia Marie. This year Sequoia will enter the first grade and Brenda plans to return to the work force this fall. Brenda lives life to the fullest: she enjoys doing handcrafts, swims, exercises daily at the YMCA, and loves to water ski. She knows that Comet will provide safety and independence for her and her daughter.

Jerry Ewing and Daniel

Jerry Ewing, of North Carolina, came to Guiding Eyes for Daniel, his fourth dog from the school. He has been blind since birth from retinitis pigmentosa, and was employed for 13 years by American Marine Products, Inc., a cotton mill. He then entered the Randolph-Shepherd Vendor’s Program for the Blind for training in the restaurant industry. He spent five years as a Level IV Restaurant Manager, and now plans to focus on the field of food vending.

Jerry has been without a Guiding Eyes dog for the last nine months, and is eager to regain the freedom and energy that his dogs bring to his life. Speaking from his heart of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Jerry had nothing but praise. “From management to maintenance, everyone is here to achieve one goal: to make this a constructive and warm environment. The instructors are truly great and are ready to anticipate and meet the specific needs of each student.”

Deidre Green and Charlene

Deidre Green, age 39, came to us from Virginia for Charlene, her third Guiding Eyes dog. She was diagnosed in 1994 with diabetic retinopathy. Deidre’s initial interest in Guiding Eyes was inspired by the advice of a friend; however, her innate fear of traveling to New York on her own deterred her from taking immediate action on the recommendation. Deirdre holds a B.A. from Old Dominion University, and plans to pursue a Masters degree that will prepare her work in group drug counseling and therapy.

Deidre is a proud mom of an 11-year-old daughter and 8-year old son by a former marriage, and is engaged to wed again soon. She enjoys horseback riding, daily power walking, reading, doing “girl things” with her daughter and, now, shopping for her new house. Stating that Charlene will be a Godsend for independent travel, she lauded the Guiding Eyes instructors who “really know what they’re doing to inspire confidence in each student. No one leaves here who has not been thoroughly inspired and taught,” she added. She also praised the Guiding Eyes kitchen staff. “They know how to provide a consistent menu of taste and variety Marie’s vegetable lasagna is fabulous.”

Julie McGinnity and Brie

Julie McGinnity is 17 and will enter her senior year of high school this fall. She was born with limited vision caused by glaucoma, and came here from Missouri for Brie, her first guide dog. Julie was strongly advised by her Orientation and Mobility instructor to apply to Guiding Eyes as “the best school” and well worth the long trip to New York. Julie is a trained vocalist and plans to attend college as a music major, in preparation for a career in either opera or musical theater. At her Guiding Eyes graduation, she thrilled the audience with her own, heartfelt rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” She enjoys a busy social life with friends, tandem bike riding, and on the more serious side, reading and working on her musical skills. Although she admits to being a late-morning riser (when not in class), Julie is a happy, ambitious girl who loves to be “on the go.” Julie recognizes that owning a Guiding Eyes dog is a big responsibility, but that Brie will grant her independence and access to the wider world. Julie radiates her pleasure at being at Guiding Eyes. “I really like it here – it’s fun. The learning mode here is interesting, positive and effective.”

Heather Melvin and Voltaire

Heather Melvin, 19 years old and hailing from North Carolina, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Voltaire. Blind since the age of ten as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, she was also advised by her Orientation and Mobility instructor to apply to Guiding Eyes. She is currently an “A” student at Sampson Community College, and she hopes to further her education in the fields of psychology and criminal profiling; she is intensely curious about the complexities of what motivates a criminal’s actions.

In the meantime, Heather says she loves to read and to create pen and ink portraits. She uses her fingers to measure facial features, their size and distance from each other. Heather is confident that Voltaire will give her incomparable companionship and independence. “Guiding Eyes is really cool. I love it and I’ve formed some great friendships here.”

Gail Smith and Finley

Gail Smith came from Alabama at age 52 for Finley, her first guide dog. Blind (cause unknown) since the age of 14, Gail was encouraged to attend Guiding Eyes by a friend who has a retired guide dog from the school. Gail has a varied career history: she has been employed as a court typist, telemarketer, and convenience store/tackle shop owner. Happily married to Donald Smith for 13 years, Gail likes to knit, crochet, cook and bake breads and confections. She describes Finley as a great leader, while at the same time demonstrating a gentle, sweet and friendly demeanor. Gail looks forward to realizing easier mobility, more freedom and independence when they arrive home together. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is fabulous much more so than I could ever have imagined. Oh, yes, and the instructors are so patient and wonderful.”

Jessica Snyder and Mattie

Jessica Snyder, 22, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Ohio for her first guide dog, Mattie. Jessica’s vision loss is the result of retinopathy of prematurity, which became apparent when she was eight years of age. Jessica had firsthand knowledge of Guiding Eyes: she had observed a number of Guiding Eyes’ puppy raisers in her home state and liked what she both saw and heard of Guiding Eyes’ training requirements and general philosophy.

Jessica earned her B.S. in Psychology from Lake Erie College. She takes her education seriously, and sets high standards for herself. However, she enjoys many close friendships with colleagues, is an amateur equestrian and an avid admirer of “all creatures great and small.” In her more quiet moments, she loves to read mysteries and books on psychology. In speaking of Mattie, Jessica particularly admires the apparent depth of his affection for her and his consistent obedience. She also appreciates that he is a fast walker who instinctively matches her own stride. Mattie will have a few cat “roomies” when he arrives home, but Jessica is sure they will acclimate to one another. “I really like it here. The instruction, atmosphere and program is professional and firmly administered but still it’s like we’re one big family.”