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June 2016 Graduating Class

June 2016

Audie Marks and Team Oliver U.K. are proud to sponsor the June 2016 class. From across the pond we wish you the best of new beginnings.

Congratulations to all the June graduates! May each of these newly formed partnerships greet each day with confidence and trust in one another. We wish all of you smooth travels, great adventure, and mutual love.
John and Lynn Dillon

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

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:
Barbara & Bennett
Davian & Charlie
David & Rambo
Eileen & Omega
Gabriel & Yakima
Helen & Whitley
Kiana & Bryce (S)
Nathan & Neptune
Richard & Chris
Sarah & Randall
Yamil & Bancroft

HOME Training
Melanie & Kismet

(S): The donor listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dog:


Congratulations to our graduating class!


Many thanks to our instructors:
Class Supervisor: Jolene Hollister
Class Instructors: Eileen Thompson and Alyssa Tilley
Special Needs Instructor: Susan Kroha
Instructor Assistant: Allison Greenberg

HOME Training:
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training Instructor


Barbara and BennettB. Bandsund & Bennett

Barbara lost her sight to retinitis pigmentosa by the time she was 21. Severe arthritis led to having two thirds of her spine fused, causing her to be unsteady on her feet and to angle to the left. The Guiding Eyes staff, she says, listened to her needs, then matched her with Bennett, a black male Lab. When her gait is off, Bennett, who has the necessary size and heft, stands firm and helps her maintain her balance. He will even nudge her if she is standing off-kilter. And because Barbara loves to walk in the country, Bennett has learned to steer her away from low hanging tree branches, to make for safer outings.

Barbara and her husband spend their summers exploring favorite state parks like Minnesota’s Itasca. They look forward to taking Bennett on their 16-foot boat out onto Lake Bemidji. They’ll fish for sunnies, perch, and walleyes, then go home and have a fish fry for dinner.  “Better than anything you could get in a restaurant!” Barbara says.

Barbara has had guide dogs in the past, but Bennett is her first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Congratulations to Bennett’s puppy raisers: Charlene & Dave Kirkwood!


Davian and CharlieD. Robinson & Charlie

DJ traveled from North Carolina for Charlie, a yellow male Lab and his third dog from Guiding Eyes. Charlie has a fast gait and an energetic personality, which makes him the perfect match for DJ, a young man who is in constant motion. As a top-flight cyclist, DJ trains six days a week in hopes of making the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team. It’s not a dream too far. In 2013 he came in first in the State Championships in Velodrome, and he won a bronze in cycling at the Para Nationals in Carson City, California.

DJ was born with retinitis of prematurity which began impacting his vision when he was eight. He has no sight in his left eye and diminished sight in his right. But his vision loss hasn’t slowed him down. Charlie will attend college with DJ as he works on a degree in exercise science with a minor in dance (hip hop and break dancing are his favorites) at the University of North Carolina. In addition to cycling, he runs track and field.

DJ is unwavering in his goal to open a fitness center for adults and children who want to become physically stronger and healthier. DJ’s motivation is personal. He saw his dad, his grandfather, and an aunt all die from what he believes were preventable heart attacks. He’s promised himself that he will do all he can to show those around him that one’s health must be the first priority.  “What you have to have,” he says, his hand on Charlie’s harness, “is a never-quit mentality and a spiritual faith that what is good will prevail.”

Congratulations to Charlie’s puppy raisers: Linda & Jim McCauley!


David and RamboD. Toro & Rambo

David will return to Frostburg State University in Maryland with Rambo, a male black-and-tan German Shepherd, his second dog from Guiding Eyes. Together they will manage a very busy schedule. David is studying music management. He also plays the guitar, sings, and composes many of his own songs. His music is influenced by jazz and blues, he says, and he’s written nearly a full complement of songs for an album.

David lost his sight at the age of one to Coats Disease, a rare condition that affects the blood vessels behind the retina. He has no vision in his left eye and only light perception in his right.  But David doesn’t allow his blindness to define him. Frostburg is giving him the foundation he needs for the career he wants. “I love music,” he says.  And he was featured recently in a National Eye Institute interview on YouTube called “Living Boldly with Blindness.”

Congratulations to Rambo’s puppy raisers: David & Julie Albany!


Eileen and OmegaE.  Frazer & Omega

Two years ago Eileen contracted a mysterious bacterial infection. It affected her left knee and right ankle, her back, a wrist, and destroyed both retinas.  She spent 16 weeks on intravenous antibiotics and nearly died. By the time she recovered, her vision was completely gone.

Her husband, Ken, was with her throughout the ordeal. They have always been a team, she says, having established the Frazer Studio of Photography, in Manitoba, Canada. Eileen helps with the marketing and planning of the business, but she misses the visual impact of the beautiful places and images she and Ken photographed over the years.  Having Omega, a female German Shepherd, is helping to bring a greater sense of possibility to her life.

Eileen and Ken spend summers in the Canadian Rockies where lakes and mountains abound. One of Eileen’s goals is to walk the lake at sunrise with Omega. “It would be such a gift,” she says, “to walk that five-mile circuit every day, to return to one of life’s most lovely, normal activities.”

Congratulations to Omega’s puppy raiser: Debbie Coyle!


Gabriel and YakimaG. Millay & Yakima

Gabriel is not sure what caused his blindness. He comes from a large family—11 brothers and sisters. His mom adopted nine of the children; four are blind.

Gabriel attended the University of Southern Maine before deciding he’d prefer to teach people who are blind to use computers. It’s turned into a good job for him, he says, one that he enjoys. Yakima, a yellow male Lab, is his second dog from Guiding Eyes. Getting from client to client will be much easier with Yakima by his side.

Gabe intends to travel the beautiful coastline near Portland with Yakima. Together, they will go out in a canoe on the nearby lakes. As for one of Maine’s greatest delicacies, a personal favorite, Gabriel has a friend with a lobster boat who trades him fresh lobster—for computer lessons!

Congratulations to Yakima’s puppy raisers: Dawn Bowman, Greg Stofko & Kelly Stofko!


Helen and WhitleyH. Han & Whitley

Helen was 12 when she came to the U.S. from China. She could read and write English, but she hadn’t yet learned to speak it. She tells of how sore her mouth was every night from practicing the foreign language.

Her beginnings weren’t easy either. She was born with degenerative myopia, an inherited condition that causes the shape of the eye to change. As a child she wore thick glasses. She is now legally blind.

A quick study, Helen earned a degree in chemistry at the University of Washington and an MBA from the University of Denver. She worked as a research chemist with a petroleum company, helped the Bureau of Land Management with erosion control along the Colorado River, and provided businesses with medical staffing.

Currently she is working as a tax consultant but acknowledges it is sometimes challenging to convince clients she can do the job. Helen hopes that having Whitley, a yellow female Lab with her will help clients realize that visually impaired people can contribute on many levels thanks to coping strategies and technology. As though to prove her point, Helen will have Whitley by her side as she administers communion at her Lutheran church where she is a member of the Altar Guild.

Congratulations to Whitley’s puppy raiser: Wendy Collier!


Kiana and BryceK. Harlan & Bryce

Kiana is certain that Bryce, her second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, will be a great help when she returns to the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where she’s majoring in social work. Besides her studies, Kiana wants to get involved in AmeriCorps, which offers services to immigrants who settle in U.S. communities.

Kiana understands firsthand the value of helping others. She lost her vision at the age of 13 due to pseudotumor cerebri. For unknown reasons, this non-tumor can cause the optic nerve to swell. As a result, Kiana can see only light and shadows. She was able to attend public high school with the help of an assistant who accompanied her to class.

Kiana is also a writer. Writing, she says, allows her to take a break and do something she loves. She has completed several chapters of a romance mystery, which she hopes to have published one day.

Congratulations to Bryce’s puppy raiser: Mary Glassco!


Nathan and Neptune N.Mathewson & Neptune

Nathan was born with coloboma, a condition in which tissue in and around the eye is missing. He participated in our Special Needs program as he is legally blind and struggles with balance issues. And because he has hearing in only one ear, he easily experiences sensory overload.

Neptune, a black male Lab, brings a sense of both safety and stability to Nathan’s world. In spite of his many physical challenges, Nathan smiles often as he talks about what a difference Neptune has already made in his life.

Nathan attended public school near Pittsburgh. An aide accompanied him to classes and took notes for him. Working with notes and books was something Nathan always liked to do, so it’s not surprising that he’s going to Clarion University of Pennsylvania to study library science.  He laughs when he thinks about a trip to the library as part of a Guiding Eyes training exercise. Neptune obeyed the “Quiet Please” signs like a pro, he says. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the visit too.

Congratulations to Neptune’s puppy raiser: Lynn Stas!


Richard and ChrisR. Bullard & Chris

Richard served in the Navy in Kuwait and Iraq as an underwater demolitions technician.  During a night mortar attack, he was positioned too close to the blast and the flash burned his retinas. Surgeries offered temporary relief, leaving him able to see only shades of light.

Eventually Richard found himself homeless, living under the Atlantic City boardwalk. A veterans’ outreach volunteer got him into the VA System and Blind Rehabilitation Center, and Richard began to work through a lot of anger and denial.

He also began working at a VA hospice center. It was a real wake-up call. “I saw people, in far worse circumstances, with a lot more dignity and courage than I had,” he says. VA doctors and a support group for veterans who are blind connected him to Guiding Eyes.

Chris, his yellow male Lab, gets up every morning, full of energy and ready to go. Richard says it’s a reminder to make every effort to live his life the same way. He’s already gone scuba diving and is looking forward to skydiving, rock climbing, and kayaking.

Congratulations to Chris’s puppy raisers: Diane Clark and Carla Robbins!


Sarah and RandallS.Hawke & Randall

Sarah has been blind since she was 19 months old.  She suffered a blow to the back of the head when she was a baby, and although no one is sure how this happened, it caused her vision loss, memory lapses, and headaches. A sunny, energetic young woman, Sarah opted for our Special Needs program to help address her many challenges.

She attended the School for the Blind in Columbus, Ohio, before coming to Guiding Eyes. Randall, a black male Lab, will be a watchful companion for Sarah as she maintains her own apartment and volunteers with the Salvation Army and the Philomatheon Society of the Blind, a non-profit group that helps people who are blind remain independent and productive citizens.

Sarah plans to take Randall to the local YWCA where she works out and to church where she plays a guitar that she won in a lottery. She was lucky to win the guitar, she says, but even luckier to have been matched with Randall.

Congratulations to Randall’s puppy raisers: Mary Hummer and Elizabeth Kopniske!


Yamil and BancroftY. Roman & Bancroft

Yamil was 14 when he lost his sight due to Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, an inherited condition that his family had never even heard of. Although Yamil still has some peripheral vision and can see outlines, he has had to make many adjustments. He particularly dislikes using a cane.  “It was like carrying a shield everywhere I went,” he says. “It kept pushing people away from me.”

Yamil, who is originally from Puerto Rico, traveled from his home in Orlando, Florida, to meet Bancroft, a black, male Lab. Having graduated from Valencia Community College, Yamil wants to get a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Central Florida. “Bancroft is going to help me get from one place to another much more easily,” Yamil says, “but he’s also going to open doors in so many other directions.”

Congratulations to Bancroft’s puppy raisers: The Rowland Family!


Home Trained

Melanie and KismetMelanie

Melanie and her husband, both retired geologists, live in Guilford, CT, just a mile and a half from the sea. Melanie loves to row and takes Kismet, her fourth Guiding Eyes dog, along with her newly retired dog Laurel out in a small kayak. She swims every day in a pool or in the sea, and the dogs, being Labs, are happy to join her.

Melanie lost her sight to a viral infection that scarred her retinas. She has peripheral vision and can see some colors, but she is unable to read text. Her ophthalmologist suggested she call Guiding Eyes. “The school is the best,” says Melanie, who participated in our Home Training program. “They train such mellow, smart, adaptable dogs.” For Melanie, this means she has the independence and freedom to explore her great love of nature with her dogs by her side.

Underlining her point, Melanie says that she got her bachelor’s degree at the College of Wooster in Ohio and then attended the University of Connecticut for her master’s.  But the graduation certificate she received from Guiding Eyes for the Blind means the most to her.

Congratulations to Kismet’s puppy raisers: The Mildwurf Family!