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June 2017 Graduating Class

June 2017

Congratulations to all the June graduates. Our donation to Guiding Eyes is in loving memory
of our dearest Alli Cimring, who also dedicated her life to helping others with
physical and emotional disabilities. With this gift we hope to honor her noble work,
her love for dogs, and continue her legacy of giving.
Zimmet Healthcare Services Group

Congratulations to TEAM BRIA, TEAM BRANDON, and TEAM YETI. May you have
many safe and happy adventures together. Thank you to their puppy raisers
for all they do in raising such extraordinary dogs!
Central New York Puppy Raising Region

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

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:
Claire & Dania
Ethan & Brandon
Jennifer & Tully
Katelin & Yeti
Katherine & Wally (S)
Kimberly & Epic
Zippora & Velita
Mark & Linus
Stasia & West
Timothy & Alisa

ACTION Training
Johna & Bria
Jywanza & Wyatt

HOME Training
Alicia & Ken
Omar & Sarge

S: The donor listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dogs:
• Wally was special named in loving memory of Waldemar Lelewski and his sister, Wanda Lelewski.

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our instructors:
Class Supervisor: Jolene Hollister
Class Instructors: Eileen Thompson, Cara Ebeling, Allie Greenberg

Special Needs Instructor: Susan Kroha

ACTION Training:
Woody Curry, Senior Guide Dog Instructor
Instructor Assistant: Laurel Sheets

HOME Training:
Graham Buck, Assistant Director of Training
Jessy DiNapoli, Special Needs Instructor


Claire & Dania Claire & Dania

Claire was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at birth. She was 16 before she began losing her sight. Now legally blind, she has some residual vision but no night vision.

It was Claire’s sister, Emma, who convinced Claire to apply for a guide dog. Claire saw that Emma, who is visually impaired and has her own guide dog, was living independently in an apartment at school. Claire traveled from Texas to meet Dania, a female yellow Lab.

Together they will attend Lone Star Community College where Claire is focusing on liberal arts.  And they will hang out with her friends and go to concerts and movies. Claire is an avid reader and uses her Kindle app to recommend a variety of books to read.  She likes all genres of music but favors Country, Christian, Pop, and Rock.

“I was very excited to join the Guiding Eyes program,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to have the confidence to walk outside with my guide dog and avoid the curbs, poles, and other obstacles I have always worried about. Now when family and friends ask me to go places, I will be more likely to accept those invitations and enjoy myself.”

Congratulations to Dania’s puppy raisers, Randy & Kathleen Smith!


Ethan & Brandon Ethan & Brandon

Ethan Holliger was born with normal vision. It was a preschool screening test that revealed some vision loss. While he has some central vision and can see colors and shapes, he has no depth perception. Ethan was in kindergarten when he began to experience balance and stability difficulties. After numerous medical tests, Ethan still has no diagnosis to explain his vision and balance loss.

While in junior high school Ethan began using a cane for support. By the time he was in high school he needed two canes, one for stability and a long white cane for mobility. It was an orientation and mobility instructor who suggested he consider a guide dog.

Ethan returned to Guiding Eyes recently to participate in our Special Needs program for people with vision loss who have additional physical or medical challenges. We partnered Ethan with Brandon, a male black Labrador and his second guide dog with us. Brandon not only guides Ethan around obstacles, but he has also been trained to support and stabilize Ethan while they go about their daily routine. “It’s like being in the driver’s seat,” he says.

Brandon will join Ethan in Ohio where he works as an accessibility consultant, helping companies and developers make their web interfaces accessible to the blind community. Ethan looks forward to being able to travel more with Brandon by his side. “He’s the ideal match for me,” he says. “Having a guide dog is a social thing. I get to talk to people more, and I have more freedom and confidence.”

Congratulations to Brandon’s puppy raisers, Alyssa Searles and Paul & Cindy Swift!


Jennifer & Tully Jen & Tully

At 22 Jen could still read print books with 20/70 vision. But then came a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, followed by news of glaucoma and a quick deterioration of her sight. She lost her confidence and was afraid to go places by herself. Driving was out of the question. Soon depression set in. Her vision, she says, is like looking through a paper towel roll during the day. At night she is completely blind.

Jen traveled from the Chicago suburbs for Tully, a female yellow Lab. Tully is even-tempered and very well-behaved.  Jen looks forward to getting her independence back with Tully’s help. Already, she says, she feels safer and is excited to walk on trails, just the two of them.

Jen has been married to Pete for 20 years. It was Pete, her family, and friends, she says, who helped her come out of her depression. She was especially moved by a note from her daughter: “I love you, and who you are is amazing even though you can’t see.”

Over the years Jen has kept active by volunteering to help kindergarten children in reading and math and working as a paralegal. She stayed at home to care for her son and daughter. When they were older she returned to an ophthalmologist’s office where she still works.

“I was very nervous about attending the Guiding Eyes program,” she says, “but I’m glad I did. Tully has given me the most amazing gift by widening my comfort zone. I plan to find a way to give back to show my appreciation for all the amazing support and encouragement I have received from friends and family and the people at Guiding Eyes for the Blind.”

Congratulations to Tully’s puppy raisers, The Shaw Family


Johna & BriaJohna & Bria

Johna always knew she would lose her vision from retinopathy of prematurity. Rather than become bitter, she decided she would do whatever she could to maintain her independence. She found that sense of freedom in her Guiding Eyes guide dogs. Bria, a female black Lab, is her second guide. Johna participated in our abbreviated ACTION program for experienced handlers.

“These dogs,” says Johna, “enhance my mobility by avoiding obstacles. There’s no comparison to a white cane. The guide dog is a friend and a buddy, but with two modes: work and play.”

Bria will join Johna in her new job as an accessibility consultant for a consulting agency that specializes in disability employment. And waiting to meet Bria in Pittsburgh is Mike, Johna’s husband, and Lola, his Guiding Eyes guide dog. Johna’s two children and grandchild look forward to meeting Bria in the fall.

“Bria is amazing,” says Johna. “She’s a little diva who is eager to work and who shadows me when she’s not working. I am looking forward to going somewhere completely new and having Bria help me navigate.”

Congratulations to Bria’s puppy raiser, Dianne Peschka!


Jywanza & WyattJywanza & Wyatt

Jywanza talks of the days, before he had a guide dog, when he would stay in his apartment for weeks at a time because his white cane skills weren’t very good. Even while still sighted he was afraid of New York City’s subway platforms and traveling alone.  “My first Guiding Eyes guide dog opened up a whole new world for me, “ says Jywanza. “I was able to travel and visit friends.”

Wyatt, a male black Lab, is Jywanza’s third Guiding Eyes guide dog. And he’s quick. He has to be to keep up with Jywanza, who participated in our accelerated ACTION program for experienced handlers. His mother jokingly says that once her son had his guide dogs, he became “a traveling fool.”

Jywanza was nine when all he could see on the class blackboard one day was a big red splotch. Both of his retinas had detached. Although he underwent six operations, he was totally blind by 15. “It was no big deal,” he says. “I saw the glass as half full. I could still hear. I could still do many things.”

Jywanza earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree and works in Indiana for the U.S. Department of Defense in finance.  “I couldn’t have achieved what I have without my dogs. I became more outgoing and more confident. That confidence was transferrable to my whole life.” He pauses, then adds, “My guide dogs have changed my life. One of them even found my wife, Julie, for me!”

Congratulations to Wyatt’s puppy raiser, Steffany Farrell!


Katelin & Yeti Katelin & Yeti

Katelin started complaining as a child that she couldn’t see the blackboard. She was diagnosed in sixth grade with Stargardt disease, a macular dystrophy most commonly diagnosed in adulthood. While she still had some vision, everything was blurry. The disease progressed rapidly, but is currently at a point of stability.

Meeting Yeti, a male black Lab, has changed everything for Katelin.  He allows her to make choices more independently. In the past she found herself in situations where she felt uncomfortable and was dependent on those around her to make choices for her.

“The biggest change I look forward to,” says Katelin, “is traveling independently and not having to rely on others for help.  Yeti has given me a better sense of security when I am around people. I don’t have to worry about people moving out of my way like I did with my white cane because he easily navigates me around them.”

Katelin will be a sophomore in the fall at Ferrum College in Virginia, where she is studying for a degree in health and human performance. She’ll go for her master’s, too, as she wants to become a nutritionist.  She loves to learn, hang out with friends, and travel.

Katelin volunteers for Healing Strides of VA, a therapeutic horse-riding facility for people with disabilities. “I would like to be a role model and share all the possibilities and enjoyment I have discovered that life has to offer no matter what obstacles stand in the way,” she says.

Congratulations to Yeti’s puppy raisers, Christie Murphy & Family!


Katherine & WallyKatherine & Wally

Katherine was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, the most common type of eye cancer in children, when she was six years old. At seven, both of her eyes were replaced with prostheses. But Katherine hasn’t allowed her medical history to define her or her outlook on life.

Guiding Eyes partnered Katherine with her first guide dog when she was 16. Recently she returned for Wally, a male black Lab. “He had my heart,” she says, “from our very first walk together.”

Katherine works for a credit card company as a customer relations manager in the fraud department. In her spare time she enjoys reading, participating in youth ministry at her church, hiking, outdoor activities, and traveling. “Having a guide dog has helped me build my confidence,” she says. “I’m more secure and able to be independent. Back home in Phoenix, people won’t feel the need to be responsible for my safety. The white cane made me look vulnerable. With Wally’s harness in my hand, I feel like I can be me.”

Congratulations to Wally’s puppy raiser, Gayle A. Papesh!


Kimberly & Epic Kim & Epic

Kim began losing her vision gradually during her teen years because of retinitis pigmentosa. She remembers dealing with the typical awkwardness of adolescence but says her vision loss didn’t impact her too much. By 18, she could see shapes and shadows and she had some light perception. She is now totally blind. “One might not think I would mourn light perception,” she says, “but I do.” She has found her light, however, in her husband, daughter, two granddaughters, and the unconditional love of her Guiding Eyes dogs.

Kim traveled from Kentucky for Epic, a male chocolate Lab and her fourth Guiding Eyes guide dog. “Epic is always happy, which is good because I need that to help me deal with my medical conditions,” says Kim. She learned recently that she has rheumatoid arthritis, which has impacted her joints. “I was concerned that I might have trouble gripping my dog’s harness handle and leash,” she says. “But the trainers did an excellent job of selecting a dog that pulls lightly into the harness to accommodate my condition. I am so grateful for that. And I’ve spent a great deal of time massaging his leash to soften it up for my hands.”

Kim retired recently from medical transcription because of her stiffening joints. She will return home to Louisville to a family eager to meet the dog who will guide her through a new beginning. And Epic will join the family for Saturday Disney movie nights. He will have plenty of canine companionship with the family’s adopted pup and Sal, Kim’s retired Guiding Eyes guide dog. With Epic by her side, Kim is ready to define the next chapter of her life by what she can accomplish rather than by what’s been holding her back.

Congratulations to Epic’s puppy raisers, The Brado Family!


Margaret “Zippora” & VelitaMargaret “Zippora” & Velita

Zippora has wanted a guide dog for 18 years. Once her children were grown, she felt it was the perfect time to take on another challenge.  “I look forward to becoming more active and taking walks,” she says.

She describes her first experience walking with Velita, her female black Lab, as amazing, confusing, exciting and shocking. “I call her ‘Miss Smarty Pants.’”

Zippora lost the vision in her right eye due to a detached retina, but she could still read with corrective glasses. At 15 she learned she had glaucoma. Shortly after her 24th birthday, she bent down to pick up books she had dropped and suddenly everything was red. An ultrasound showed a blood clot had cut off the blood supply to the optic nerve. By the time she got to a specialist she was totally blind.

Blindness, however, has not deterred Zippora. In fact, she has excelled. She earned an associate degree in communications and worked at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa as a DSN telephone operator connecting morale calls for military personnel stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. She made it to the semi-finals of Blind Idol, a singing competition for people who are legally blind. And she recently completed certificates in the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program, which trains people who are blind to become independent entrepreneurs in the food-service business. Zippora is very excited about opening her business later this year.

Zippora has two daughters and two granddaughters. She is married to Horatio, who is also blind. They met at the Blind Center of Nevada when she realized he was sitting alone and offered to share the tips she had learned for navigating daily life as someone who is blind. “We’ve been married three years now, and we still joke about the time I decided it was time he learned to use the microwave. But it also dawned on me that I had stopped using some of those techniques myself. We’re both very independent. We’re even better as a team.”

“The added independence—getting to the bus stop by myself, for instance—will allow me to get out and explore life more, especially here in Las Vegas. I won’t have to depend on family and friends. It will make a world of difference, for sure.”

Congratulations to Velita’s puppy raisers, The Hollis Family and Kim & Ken Delfing!


Mark & LinusMark & Linus

Mark was 26 when he began to lose his vision due to retinitis pigmentosa. Eventually he was unable to continue working as an air conditioning installer and, at 52, he gave up driving. He can still make out figures and furniture, he says, but no details.

Mark, who also has difficulty hearing and wears cochlear implants in both ears, participated in our Special Needs program for people, like him, who are visually impaired and have additional physical or medical challenges. We partnered him with Linus, a male yellow Lab.

“Linus and I had a great first walk,” says Mark. “Before I was matched with him I was very depressed because I was unable to work and do what I wanted to do. But now it’s so easy to get around, and Linus will help keep me safe. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more—going out to eat, shopping, and taking a vacation—now that I’ll have Linus by my side.”

Congratulations to Linus’s puppy raisers, Aimee Wilkens & Family!


Omar & Sarge Omar Rivera & Sarge

Omar wore glasses for myopia until a doctor suggested corrective surgery when he was 15. Scar tissue hardened and consequently blocked fluid to his eyes. Eventually he developed glaucoma and his retinas detached. He was able to get around on his own and work as a civil engineer. But at 28 he lost his sight completely.

These days Omar lives in Mount Vernon, NY, and commutes to New York City where he works as a computer system analyst and programmer. Sarge, a male black-and-tan Lab, is his fifth Guiding Eyes dog. Together, they completed the Home Training program.

“Because I wasn’t blind all my life,” Omar says, “I know what it’s like to get around on my own. Having a Guiding Eyes dog is the closest sensation to being totally free. As long as I know where I’m going and I am able to communicate properly with Sarge, I will be able to get there safely.”

Two of Omar’s Guiding Eyes dogs were put to the test and succeeded in keeping him out of harm’s way. Omar’s second dog, Istar, led the way to safety after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing while Salty, his third, expertly navigated the 71-story evacuation of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Omar has fond memories of his other dogs as well. “Ryder, my first, taught me the value of a guide dog. I called him my ‘moving companion.’ And traveling two miles a day with Montana, my fourth, was a short walk. Monty was very careful when performing his guide-dog duties and playful like a little boy when out of his harness.’”

Despite the challenges he has faced in his life, Omar remains an optimistic, upbeat person. “Special needs are part of life,” he says. “We just need to keep on going. As long as I have the impulse to move, let’s do it!”

Congratulations to Sarge’s puppy raisers, The Johnson Family!


Stasia & West Stasia & West

Stasia returned to Guiding Eyes for West, a male black Lab and her second guide. “After my first guide retired, I realized how much I missed working a dog,” she says. “West exudes a confidence that eases my anxiety about navigating the world. He’s a serious guy and a rule-follower. If I don’t do the commands and signals right, he waits.”

Stasia was just eight years old when she began to lose her sight due to retinitis pigmentosa.  She has some residual vision but no peripheral. For many years she relied on a white cane to get around, but found she walked at a halting pace. With West by her side, her pace is faster, smoother, more relaxed.

When Stasia and West return to North Carolina, they will be greeted by Stasia’s husband David and their two boys. Stasia and David are pastors at Abundant Life Foursquare Church. She’s relieved that her family will no longer have to worry about her getting lost crossing the church campus. And when the family goes hiking, she says, “I’ll be holding on to West’s harness instead of hanging onto the family. With West I will always have someone to talk to that won’t talk back. And I will always have an extra set of eyes watching out for me.”

Congratulations to West’s puppy raisers, Mo Perez and Sarah Richards!


Timothy & AlisaTim & Alisa

Tim was diagnosed between sixth and seventh grades with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), a form of vision loss that affects males more frequently than females. He has peripheral, but no central, vision and can’t see traffic lights or read regular print. His vision blurs out and fades.

Tim attended the Maryland School for the Blind for several years. When he exceeded academic expectations, he switched to Catonsville High School and joined his life-long peers who made his acclimation easier.

Guiding Eyes partnered Tim with Alisa, a female yellow Lab. Although Tim was anxious about his vision loss, he chose to focus on the positives. “I put a lot of trust in Alisa, and she gives me freedom. She helps me most with stairs, and she changes the way I do things so I can get around more easily.”

Tim will be a sophomore at Towson University in the fall, where he is studying political science. He is considering law school and perhaps working in the Maryland General Assembly. He plays goal ball, a 3-on-3 sport similar to soccer, for sighted and vision-impaired players that Tim and a fellow student introduced to the school. Tim was excited to participate in the third annual national collegiate goal ball tournament at Slippery Rock University in Pittsburgh.  And in his spare time, he volunteers for the Arbutus Little League baseball team in Maryland and Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Although Tim’s vision is stabilized for now, he understands it could get worse. He has high hopes that gene therapy trials might one day yield a treatment.

Congratulations to Alisa’s puppy raiser, Leah Morgan Friedman!