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March 2010 Graduating Class

Home Training / Special Needs Graduates

And many thanks to our instructors…

Photo of Dustin Atkins and AJDustin Atkins and A.J.

Twenty year old Dustin Atkins of Vermont was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was ten years old.  Dustin learned about Guiding Eyes for the Blind from several friends who had received guides from the organization.  He chose Guiding Eyes as the subject of his senior year research project while attending the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Learning more about the program motivated him to apply to receive his first guide dog, A.J.

Dustin stated that he has been encouraged by the quick bond that he and A.J. have established. “I personally feel more comfortable traveling, especially at night, with a guide dog.  It’s fun!  If you’re going to be blind, why not make it fun with a guide dog?”

Dustin attended the National Staler Center for Careers and Hospitality in Buffalo, NY, where he received a certificate in hospitality.  He currently works at a Courtyard Marriott. In addition, Dustin is a huge country music fan.  He also enjoys working on the computer and communicating with friends on Facebook and via email.

Dustin commented that his experience at Guiding Eyes has been phenomenal.  He admitted that the training was tough but the rewards are great.  He looks forward to expanded travel opportunities and greater independence.

Congratulations to A.J.’s puppy raisers – the Ginder-Vogel Family & Allan and Linda Steiner


Lance Bell and AlbertaPhoto of Lance Bell and Alberta

Lance Bell, a 42 year old data base administrator from Canada, approached his training experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind with an exuberant attitude.  Lance was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was in his twenties; over the years his sight has continued to diminish.

Lance hopes a guide dog would help him reclaim some independence, making travel safer and faster.  He is married and has a seven year old daughter, who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Alberta, Lance’s female black Lab.  With the addition of Alberta, the family is excited about taking long walks together on the trails at a nearby park.

In addition to spending time with his family, Lance is an avid hockey fan.  He enjoys helping others and is appreciative that he has the opportunity of being the recipient of a wonderful gift from the staff of Guiding Eyes.

Lance reflected, “It is nice staying in a non-sighted world.  This is a first class operation. It is amazing how the staff works so well with both people and dogs and that is quite a skill.  I am extremely grateful.”

Congratulations to Alberta’s puppy raisers – The Boy Family of the Monroe region


Photo of Matthew Corello & EdgarMatthew Carello and Edgar

38-year-old Illinois resident Matthew Carello was matched with his second guide dog, Edgar. Matthew was born with glaucoma and lost the majority of his sight in 1997.  He is very adept with a cane but felt a guide dog could provide him with even better mobility.

Matthew enjoys reading, writing on the computer, and listening to music.  For the past two years, Matthew has hosted and served as disc jockey for an internet radio talk show.

Matthew chose Guiding Eyes because of its reputation. He shares that his new guide Edgar is very smart, friendly and works well.  Matthew greatly enjoys the companionship offered by a guide.  He confides that traveling is safer and faster with a dog. “The guides are also wonderful conversation starters and it is easier to get help when you need it. They’re your eyes to the world and are always there for you.  It has been tough to be away from home but the training is excellent.”

Congratulations to the Bruscini family of the Eastern CT puppy raising region!


Stephen  Haefner and HamiltonPhoto of Stephen  Haefner and Hamilton

Upstate NY resident Steve Haefner graduated this month as a member of the ACTION program, an accelerated class option for repeat guide dog users.  He was matched with yellow Labrador Hamilton, his sixth dog from Guiding Eyes. 

56-year-old Steve lost his sight as a result of diabetic retinopathy.  He works as a service coordinator for a housing authority; he is responsible for linking the residents of 430 apartments with services essential to quality of life.  Steve received a BS in management and a BA in psychology from St John Fisher University in Rochester.  He continued his education at the University of Buffalo, acquiring his Masters in social work.  Steve shares that navigating around the Buffalo campus was made incredibly easier with his guide dog by his side. 

Steve looks forward to returning home with Hamilton.  The team will enjoy many walks outside, as Steve loves the natural beauty around his hometown.  They’ll spend time at area charity events, at the gym, and socializing with friends. 

“All of the staff at Guiding Eyes is very dedicated to their work.  Everyone loves dogs; this is evident in the dog gates that adorn all the upstairs offices.”   

Congratulations to volunteer puppy raiser Cheryl DeVine of the Orange County region!


Photo of Michael Leone and Oralee Michael Leone and Oralee

Michael Leone of New York was paired with his third Guiding Eyes dog, Oralee.  Michael lost his eyesight as the result of an accident.  He originally got a guide dog as his motivation to get out and do more. Michael said the dogs make it easier to meet people and are naturally good conversation starters.

Michael has a Masters in counseling from George Washington University.  For the past five years he has worked as a vocational counselor for the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped.  He loves living in the city; he enjoys the ease of travel and frequently attends off Broadway productions.  

Michael has received all of his guide dogs from Guiding Eyes and credits the staff with being very helpful through the years.

Congratulations to Carol Buchannan of the New Hampshire puppy raising region!


Bonnie Lorensen and OlivePhoto of Bonnie Lorensen and Olive

Bonnie Lorenson, a retired newspaper typesetter from Illinois, has teamed up with her fourth guide dog, Olive.  Bonnie first learned she had retinitis pigmentosa when she was 22-years-old; however she had functional vision until she reached her forties. The degenerative disease progressed to the point where Bonnie could no longer drive.

Bonnie credits guide dogs with giving her back her independence.  She loves to walk at a brisk pace and the dogs are especially useful in maneuvering the snow drifts that pile up during the harsh Midwest winters.  Bonnie walks to the post office daily to pick up her mail.  Having a guide dog allows her to travel to the bank or grocery without ever having to rely on anyone else.

It is clear when speaking with Bonnie that the guides she has worked with through the years are near and dear to her heart. “I just love them, they are such great company,” she shared.

Bonnie stressed that her experience at Guiding Eyes has always been wonderful. “I just love it!  I can’t give enough credit or thank the puppy raisers enough.  And the people that work here are so caring.  They truly want us to be successful with our dogs.”

Congratulations to puppy raiser Lillian Busse of the Northern CT region!

Photo of Jan Miller and Franklin Janice Miller and Franklin

Janice Miller was born blind as the result of an unknown birth defect. She gives credits to her very supportive mother for providing her with a very independent nature. “My mom let me be a kid.  She was really great,” explained Janice.

Jan grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania.  She attended the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind from the age of six until her graduation at 17.  Janice lived at the school and returned to her home on weekends and vacations.  She has fond memories of her childhood and enjoyed the opportunity to experience both country and city life.

Jan, now retired, spent thirty years as an application programmer for check processing, and later ATM and debit card machines.  Back at that time the vocation was primarily geared toward a male dominated, sighted world.  She attended computer school and earned two Associates degrees.  Janice enjoys bowling, attending concerts and is an avid nature lover.

This month, Jan received her third dog from Guiding Eyes, a friendly yellow Lab named Franklin. Her second Guiding Eyes dog loved the water so much that Jan installed a large pond as a swimming hole in her backyard.  Franklin will be certainly enjoy lots of exercise at Jan’s house!    

Jan credits Guiding Eyes with providing her with wonderful companions and good working dogs that enable her to travel safely. “It is a very good school.  My dogs were very successful guides.  It is fun coming back and going through the training.”

Congratulations to Maine region puppy raisers – the Parker family! 


Dawn Penders and BlainePhoto of Dawn Penders and Blaine

Originally from the Albany, New York area, Dawn Penders now calls Florida her home. Dawn was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 1973 and she was recently matched with her sixth guide dog, Blaine.

Dawn has a Masters degree in science from Long Island University. She retired ten years ago from a position in which she was responsible for overseeing 52 independent living centers across the state of New York.  Dawn admits she did not like the cane. She wanted something with eyes and ears to keep her from getting hit by a car. “I could not have conceived having done all my work and traveling without a dog. They provided me with freedom.  Without the dogs I would have sat at a desk job all day.”

Married with three children and three grandchildren, Dawn has hardly slowed down since her retirement.  Last year she was elected president of the Clay County Council for the Blind. In this volunteer position, she is responsible for arranging events, meetings and activities for the Council.

When asked about her experience at Guiding Eyes this time around, Dawn simply replied, “fabulous as usual!”

Congratulations to the Doheny family of the Northern NY puppy raising region!


Photo of Tom Schurr and Beau Thomas Schurr and Beau

Tom Schurr was born with cataracts and lived through 11 surgical procedures before the second grade.  In high school, his vision further deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with glaucoma.    Getting around was a regular struggle; he often bumped into things.

Tom received his first guide dog in 1994 when he was 31 years old.  Now 46, the Oklahoma resident returned to Guiding Eyes for his fourth guide – yellow Labrador Beau.   Beau will become a part of the Schurr family just like all of his predecessors.  Tom’s first guide walked down the aisle at his wedding, and joined the newlyweds on their honeymoon in Spain.  Tom’s guide dogs were even in the hospital rooms during the births of his three children.

Tom went to law school at Oklahoma University and works as the assistant district attorney for Oklahoma County.  He’s a sports fanatic and particularly loves football and lacrosse. 

Tom shares, “My guide dogs have been the greatest gifts ever.  I used to be very apprehensive in my travels, and I was always self-conscious about asking for help.  With Beau, I trust that he knows what he’s doing; this makes me more confident in myself.” 

Congratulations to Bethany Reinhardt of the Monroe puppy raising region! 

Forrest Williams, Sr. and AsburyPhoto of Forrest Williams and Asbury

Forrest Williams, Sr., a 49 year old military veteran from Philadelphia, became aware of his failing eyesight approximately three years ago. A car accident was the catalyst that prompted Forrest to see his doctor for a thorough eye exam.  He was diagnosed with a hereditary condition known as Stargardt’s Disease.

A mobility instructor suggested Forrest consider getting a guide dog to increase his mobility.  Forrest has been paired with Asbury, a male, yellow lab. He is looking forward to the increased freedom a guide dog can provide.

Forrest holds a degree in engineering and two degrees in computer science. He has many interests. He collects military science books and enjoys adding to his collection of medieval weaponry.  His passion is assembling all types of scale models down to the most precise details.

While the work involved with his new partner, Asbury, has been intense, Forrest stated that his time at Guiding Eyes has been fantastic. “I can not begin to expound the praises with others about my experience at Guiding Eyes. They should share their business model for success with others!”

Congratulations to puppy raiser Lauren Shoemaker of Central NY region! 

Guiding Eyes thanks Susan Coney for her work compiling these student biographies.