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March 2008 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on March 29.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Dr. Francis Casale & McKenna

Deaf-Blind leader travels the world to help the hearing impaired

Reverend Dr. Francis Casale came to Guiding Eyes from California for his first guide dog, McKenna, a yellow Lab uniquely trained for the school’s Special Needs Program. Dr. Casale, a 61-year-old talented and astute gentleman, was born deaf but not blind – as the result of Usher’s Syndrome. In his early years, he attended the American School for the Deaf, received a B.A. in Art from Gallaudet University and his Masters in Art from California State University, later returning there for his second B.A. in linguistics. First employed as a professional studio photographer, painter, and producer for a small Deaf theater, he later became designer of the Technical Sign Language Project for L.A.’s Pierce College. In 1982, the Reverend married Kimie Hiasa, a Japanese deaf woman. They have two adult daughters, Naomi and Grace.

Francis then felt the call of God to serve and train the deaf to become leaders in ministry. Continuing his studies for missionary training with a Ph.D. in Theory and Counseling, Francis and Kimie traveled to Japan to establish two churches for the deaf, which still exist today. Usher’s Syndrome eventually claimed the Reverend’s sight in 1991.

In that same year, he became the first deaf ordained minister in the Church of God. He may currently be seen in a half-hour award-winning TV series “Dr. Wonder’s Workshop,” aired by Trinity Broadcasting Network.

McKenna, the doctor’s new four-legged guide, will travel throughout the world with her new partner, spreading the Gospel to the deaf and blind. Dr. Casale knows that McKenna is up to the challenges that await her.

Mel Coffee & Mitch

Retired tax attorney crosses the country for second dog

Mel Coffee has returned to Guiding Eyes from Colorado for his second guide dog, Mitch. Mel’s visual impairment was diagnosed as retinitis pigmentosa when he was 32. He initially turned to Guiding Eyes for a guide dog through information received at a conference sponsored by the Association for the Blind. Now, at age 73, Mel has retired from his 40-year career as a tax attorney, during which time he also served as a member of the state legislature and an adjunct professor at Denver University’s Graduate School. Married for 51 years with two children, Mel is enjoying his retirement. He reads avidly, works out at the gym and does paperwork at home (while in Yorktown Heights his wife advised him that his “1040 tax forms are on his desk waiting for him.”). Mel has a positive mindset which leads him to see a glass as always “half full, not half empty.” For him, Mitch makes a wonderful canine partner – energetic, intelligent, affectionate, and a good worker. Mel knows that his new companion will be of inestimable value to him as he travels in the city: “The dog always gets you safely where you’re going! I like the confidence that gives me!” Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Mel exclaims, “It just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Maryann Gilliard & Barkley

Drumming up enthusiasm is easy for Guiding Eyes veteran

Maryann Gilliard is a seasoned veteran of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, having now returned to the school for her fifth dog, Barkley. She applied and received her first Guiding Eyes dog when she was 17. After a brief venture at New York University into French education, Maryann became the owner and operator of a business enterprise in New York; she is now an employee of a similar enterprise in Colorado.

Maryann loves to read, go to the theater, and enjoys being with her friends. She has been a professional drummer for 26 years and participates in her church’s worship band and choir. Self-described as an upbeat, service-oriented, people person, she is happy with Barkley who is happy, obedient and a great worker. She feels confident that Barkley will successfully follow in the paw prints of his predecessors. With abundant kudos to Guiding Eyes, Maryann extols the familial atmosphere fostered by the school staff and instructors which has spread effectively through the student body. “I love it here; after two decades of fabulous dogs and training, I would expect nothing less than excellence.”

Bill Hadden, Jr. & Godiva

80-years young and a “roaring” Lion

Bill Hadden, Jr., at 80, is the undisputed “senior statesman” of this month’s class. He came from Virginia for Godiva, which is his sixth guide dog, but his first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. A 1952 graduate of Roanoke College in Virginia, Bill had his first successful career in the insurance business. His move in 1966 to his own investigating business ended six years later when he suffered a disabling stroke. Bill took his rehabilitation at the Virginia Center for the Blind and became a guide dog user under the auspices of the local Brookville-Timberlake Lions Club. He has been an effective “roaring Lion” ever since, and among many other honors, has been recipient of the International Association of Lions Clubs Ambassador of Good Will Award, the highest recognition made by Lions International.

Bill has an outrageous good humor and a positive outlook. His long life has been marked by achievement and leadership. Bill has been happily married to his wife Jackie 58 years; they have three grown children and are the proud grandparents of five. He states that Godiva thinks she’s “Miss America on four paws,” and truly is an outstanding worker that will ensure Bill’s confidence, safety and well-being. More than satisfied with Guiding Eyes, he concluded with an acronym that describes what his experience here has meant to him personally: “Begin Life In a New Dimension.”

Brenda Hicklin & Milo

Animal lover adds a Guiding Eyes dog to her family

A small town in south-central Pennsylvania is home to Brenda Hicklin, who has come to New York to claim her second guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes. She attended another school in 1998, but feels that her recent admission to Guiding Eyes is nothing less than a dream come true. Brenda has limited partial vision, which was discovered when she was a three-year old, 32 years ago. Presently employed as a family caregiver, Brenda also has two dogs, a parrot and a horse of her own. She likes to swim, and takes time to listen to books on tape while she executes her house and child care duties. Blessed with a quiet demeanor, Brenda also possesses a delightful sense of humor and is truly gifted with a listening, empathetic ear for those in need of friendship or advice.

Milo, her new guide dog, promises to be an intelligent, sensitive partner that will perform his magic quietly and with effective precision. “I am very positive about the impact of having Milo at my side; I know he will enable me to enjoy so much more independence.” In speaking of Guiding Eyes, Brenda’s eyes lit up as she talked about the family atmosphere and supportive personal attention she has received. “Will I come back? You bet I will!!”

Agnes Moneypenny & Lima

Transplanted Irish lass finds her pot of gold

Ireland is the native land of Agnes Moneypenny, who came to the United States in 1975. She was a solid and conscientious worker during her adolescence and early adulthood. Her diminishing eyesight was diagnosed as retinitis pigmentosa when she was 19. Currently a resident of New York State, she is happily married with three children and six grand lads and lassies. This homemaker likes to swim, walk and cook – all of which she does with classical music playing. She describes herself as content, with little expectation of life, of good cheer and having a love for people.

Earnestly searching for an “expanded lifestyle,” Agnes came to Guiding Eyes upon a convincing recommendation from Lighthouse for the Blind. Her new Guiding Eyes dog is Lima, whom Agnes refers to as “her pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Agnes sees Lima, much like herself, as a fun-filled, feisty, obedient, sweet and lovable companion. She knows that Lima will enable her to walk safely in her rural area (no sidewalks) with ease and will be good company as well. “My time here at Guiding Eyes has been unbelievable from day one. I feel as though I am in a “warm zone” – one that is filled with good feeling, concern and love among staff and students alike.“

Brian Moore & Arizona

Canadian network manager hits the road with Arizona

Brian Moore, 40, from Ontario, Canada came here for his second Guiding Eyes dog Arizona. Born with retinopathy of prematurity, Brian applied to Guiding Eyes after a thorough search and study of web sites that contained a plethora of school possibilities.

A graduate of the University of Calgary with a major in Social Work and Mental Health, Brian changed direction and is now a computer network manager, working 40-plus hours per week. A lover of all kinds of music and an avid bookworm, Brian considers himself a computer geek, but finds pleasure in walking and water skiing for physical recreation.

Brian’s winning smile belies his positive, helpful, shy and sometimes obstinate – nature. He finds his new guide Arizona, likewise, to be friendly an obedient companion; they understand each other perfectly. As a frequent business traveler over Canada’s vast territory, Brian knows that Arizona will make his trips safer, easier and more pleasant. While it is said that there is “no place like home,” Brian says that based on his knowledge and experience, “there is no place like Guiding Eyes for the Blind!”

Chris Moore & David

Graduate Council member returns “home” for fifth dog

Chris Moore, at the age of 38, has returned to Guiding Eyes for her fifth guide dog, David. Blind at birth from retinopathy of prematurity, Chris turned to Guiding Eyes early in life, acting on the recommendations of a former graduate who extolled the school for its training techniques combined with a strong family atmosphere. Chris is currently employed in the credit operations department of a large communications company.

As an active Guiding Eyes veteran, she serves on our Graduate Council, conducts graduate exit interviews, and is faithful in attending the annual Guiding Eyes New Leash on Life Walkathon. Chris, an ardent hockey fan, is outgoing and personable. Her chief joy and topic of conversation these days is Ryan, her four-month-old baby boy.

She fully believes and anticipates that David will enjoy living with a baby (and three cats) in her small apartment. Chris cherishes the embrace of the Guiding Eyes family, which she knows will always be here for her. “It’s like a home away from home.

Kristy Newell & Yardley

Quality assurance manager takes second dog on her daily commute

Kristy Newell came to us from the Philadelphia area, but remains proud of her true heritage in Rochester, New York. Kristy was born totally blind, cause unknown, 31 years ago. She chose Guiding Eyes for its reputation as an “excellent school that maintains a professional training program within an informal atmosphere.”

Kristy graduated from Canisius College in Buffalo with a B.A. in Communications. She is employed by a customer service company in the field of quality assurance. Kristy enjoys reading and listening to music, taking long walks, and occasionally skis.

Kristy has turned to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, Yardley, whom she describes as great worker: “At times,” she says, “she is like a canine pogo stick, but when she settles down, she’s my dream girl.” Kristy is truly joyful about having Yardley at her side, and anticipates that her new companion will give her ease of movement on her commute to work in the city, which is abundant with pedestrian and street traffic. Speaking effusively of Guiding Eyes, she says, “From administration to maintenance, the personnel here are absolutely incredible in demonstrating their expertise, support and love for each student and dog. This is indeed, ‘a magic kingdom’!”

Brian Spaulding & York

Onward to higher education with a Guiding Eyes dog by his side

Following the advice of both his mobility instructor and mother, Brian Spaulding came from western New York state to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for York, his first guide dog. Brian lost some of his vision when he was 23 because of diabetic retinopathy. He was struck in his other eye at a construction site by a wayward flying hammer in 2006, which resulted in further significant sight loss. Brian, a student at Hadley School for the Blind, says that he loves all kinds of music, plays guitar and keyboard and enjoys being with his friends and family. Brian was briefly married in 2004 and has two step children. His plans for the future include becoming a full-time student at the local community college this fall.

Brian is a positive young man who enjoys trying new things and meeting new people. Of his first Guiding Eyes dog, Brian says, “We understand each other perfectly.” He has great expectations of his new partner, not only as a guide but as a companion. Brian admits to having felt nervous about coming into a new and different environment at Guiding Eyes. Now he boasts, “Hey, when you get here, everything is great – I feel right at home!”

John Spencer & Jeremiah

Country guitarist sings new praise for third dog

John Spencer, at age 55, has come from upstate New York to meet Jeremiah, his third Guiding Eyes dog. Born two months early, John’s total sight loss was the result of retinopathy of prematurity. John is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and received his Masters from Geneseo State College. He came to Guiding Eyes after noticing that some of his co-workers at The Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired had well-mannered and trained Guiding Eyes dogs. John works as a workshop trainer in the manufacturing department of the Olmsted Center. He is a music aficionado and has played bass guitar for a country band that specializes in music from the 60s and 70s. John is extremely social and a gentleman. The bond of unconditional love between John and Jeremiah is already evident. Jeremiah will help John travel to and from work and provide companionship. Of Guiding Eyes, John is generous in his praise: “Guiding Eyes is a very sensible, well-organized, well-structured and effective school. I have found both joy and confidence here.”

Kari Young & Olson

Third-time Guiding Eyes student returns with her sister

Pennsylvanian Kari Young joined her sister, Brenda Hicklin, in Guiding Eyes’ March class. Kari, diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of seven, has returned for Olson, her third Guiding Eyes dog. Kari found the family atmosphere, accommodations and quality of training at the school are more than she could have ever hoped for. Kari, attended technical school and earned her certification in customer service support. She is a mother to one daughter and a grandmother of a year-old grandson. Kari loves life and everything it has to offer.

Kari enjoys communicating with long-distance friends through the internet (there is not much social opportunity in her sparsely populated town). She instinctively feels that she and Olson understand each other very well and that he will be a great help as she moves about her community. How does Kari feel about Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “I wouldn’t keep coming back if I didn’t feel it is the best school in the world.”