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May 2006 Graduating Class

Meet our newest graduates. Learn why they chose the Guiding Eyes program and what they said about their training and their new dogs.

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews and photographs for this article.

Richard Buscemi and Verdi

Kenmore, New York is the town to which Richard Buscemi will take his third dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a female black Labrador, Verdi. Richard was impressed with Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s prompt response to his application, and when he became a student, was happy and comfortable about his choice. Richard lost total sight as a result of meningitis in 1993 and has since proved his mettle in his participation in Team America Rides. In one of these competitions, among other folks with disabilities, Richard road the 350 miles from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by white water rafting, kayaking and cycling. That was followed by another Team America journey by bicycle from Boston to Cincinnati, a distance of 850 miles. Richard was born on a farm and worked the horses as a child. He and his wife will soon celebrate their marriage of 40 years and are mighty proud of their children and five grandchildren. Richard describes himself as one who enjoys people, likes to stay active and is by nature a helper. However, he has been told by those who know him well that he is “opinionated.” Richard admits to being better at giving advice than receiving it, but he is learning to listen and shut up! Richard received a B.A. in Education from Buffalo State College, but soon turned his interests to the field of mechanical design where he ultimately worked for a welding company. Richard has many pastimes. He currently volunteers at the V.A. Hospital Buffalo teaching computer to blind patients. His “past- time history” (before blindness) would reveal activities involving training and breaking horses, driving sports cars, back packing, coaching soccer for 20 years, cycling (5,000 miles per year) woodworking, computer, and participating in pistol competitions. Richard describes his new companion/guide Verdi as a loveable, girlish, excitable dog who likes fun and is a good worker. He expects that Verdi will be especially helpful in enabling him to navigate the complicated hospital routes he encounters when he teaches. His version of a “perfect day” would be riding a horse through the woods, and going for a sail. Richard speaks highly of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “Their training techniques are effective and great; the personnel, without exception, from cooks to instructors are wonderful. I love every one of them!”

Ivory Duncan and Bryce

Ivory Duncan will take Bryce, a male black Labrador, home with her to Tucson, Arizona. Bryce is Ivory’s first guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind because while at the Colorado Center for the Blind some of their graduates spoke well of the solid support they continue to receive from the school. Ivory was born with retinitis pigmentosa that left her with a high level of partial sight only. She was able to focus well on one small area at a time, but at the age of 12 she broke her arm while skating because she couldn’t comprehend the larger view – that of a sharp curve ahead of her. Ivory credits her mom for always being there for her and encouraging her to succeed. Because of her steadily decreasing ability to see, Ivory was encouraged to attend high school junior and senior classes simultaneously in order to hasten her graduation, all the while singing in the school choir and serving on the Student Council. She says that those days were very long and hard for her, but she cites her graduation as her “very proudest moment.” Ivory possesses a pretty smile, an outgoing, positive, friendly, and somewhat competitive personality. Her perseverance at achieving her goals is what she values most about herself. At age 25, Ivory is divorced and has a young daughter, Maleyka. She is presently employed working ten-hour shifts, four days a week at a telephone call center for APAC-Medicare. Her ambition is to attend the University of Arizona with an ultimate goal of becoming an attorney. Ivory knows Braille, loves to read and use her computer. On a lighter side, she sings, loves to listen to music and for exercise, likes swimming. Ivory describes Bryce as a competitive, obedient dog who loves to play and lick her face but he needs to reset his alarm clock. He has been waking her at 5 in the morning! She anticipates that Bryce will enable her to move about with agility, certainty and peace of mind. The first time she walked with Bryce in White Plains, a car was randomly stopped within a crosswalk. He led her around the errant car and then back into the crosswalk. All she could say was “Wow! Such dog competency is achieved by trainers who know what they’re doing. The class instructors are supportive, positive and never acknowledge your mistakes as failure but spur you on with an encouraging word.”

Paul Hugel and Elton

Paul Hugel has come to Yorktown Heights from Overland Park, Kansas for his second dog, Elton, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind because of a presentation given at the local Rehab Center that really impressed him. Paul was born with chronic uveitis that was not diagnosed until age 13, but rendered him legally blind by the time he was 46. Now at age 55, Paul, who has three children from his first marriage, is celebrating 11 years with his second wife. He says that he has a sense of humor, and has broad interests, but (with a twinkle in his eye) says “I am not an expert in anything. I was born old.” Paul received B.S. and B.A. degrees from Marquette University and later an M.B.A. from Rockhurst College in Kansas City. He works as a senior mentor for welfare recipients for the Area Agency on Aging, a not-for-profit organization. Paul is a dog lover, enjoys working with computers, is a voracious reader, loves to travel and enjoys “fine dining.” He credits his parents for having inspired him most in his life. As a result, he has become a gentleman with broad interests who connects well with people and has a keen sense of humor. When asked what was the best advice he had ever been given, he cited two things: “Never discuss religion or politics in public,” and “If you keep your mouth shut, people will think you are stupid. Once you open it, it will remove all doubt!” Paul’s first dog was very dear to him. The unconditional love that they shared was evident as he spoke of their time together. His new chum and guide, a black and tan male Labrador retriever, is affectionate, has lots of energy, has a bright mind all his own and enjoys challenges. He feels they have already bonded. Paul was seated on the floor and Elton brought his bone over to him and then laid a head on his lap, happy as could be. Paul praised Guiding Eyes for the Blind as being a very special place, with extraordinary people, great dogs and unbelievable service. Paul feels that his next major challenge is to get back home and to settle in with Elton, whom he knows will fill the void at home and work. Politically, he will also be taking on a number of County Commissioners with whom he will diligently strive for more accessible/flexible transportation for the disabled via the para-transit system.

Sharon Lofting and Ida

Sharon Lofting has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Portland, Oregon for her third dog, but first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was her top choice as she searched the Web for another school. Sharon liked what she learned there about what Guiding Eyes for the Blind had to offer. She applied and was given a quick response. Although first on her doggie dream list was a Golden Retriever, Guiding Eyes for the Blind wisely assigned her Ida, a slower paced, smart, sensitive and gentle female black Labrador as her guide. Sharon loves her and predicts that they will spend a wonderful life together. Sharon weighed 9 ounces at her premature birth and went home a healthy four pounder, but with little vision. She had no sight in her right eye and at the age of 18 months, wore glasses for her left eye to enable her get around. Sharon’s roommate described her as “outgoing, helpful, talkative, happy, congenial and a hard worker.” When asked what she likes best about herself, Sharon says, “my enjoyment of people, my spiritual walk and the fact that I feel comfortable in my skin.” During her early years, she credits her grandmother for having inspired her to fulfill her dreams and to “go with the flow.” After graduating from high school, Sharon received a B.S. in Psychology from the State University in Portland and later, from the University of Oregon, an M.A. in Clinical Counseling. Sharon married, and had a daughter, now 26 years old, who has presented her with a wonderful granddaughter. Sharon worked for the State of Oregon as a Counselor, and subsequently spent a 20 year period with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax specialist. She is now, at the age of 57, semi-retired, and keeps books for a non-profit organization. Sharon is multi-talented. She loves to read, and fulfilling a childhood dream, has written a short-story mystery that she hopes to have published. She writes poems as well. She fully expects that Ida will soon become a vital member of her family and will give her a gift of “fearless freedom” to move about, to travel and do so much more without imposing on others. Her next major challenge will be working as a bookkeeper and receptionist for her daughter, who is opening a dog grooming business. Her praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind is boundless: “It is a wonderful school. The staff and trainers have a well defined gift of working, correcting and teaching us that display their extraordinary, diligent and endless patience.”

Tina Plishke and Granite

Winnepeg, Canada is the home of Tina Plischke who has come for Granite, her second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Tina has had a multitude of challenges to face during her 34 years. Declared legally blind since birth with congenital toxoplasmosis that caused neurological problems including a stroke and seizures, Tina says she has always had to depend on her other senses – to literally “see with her ears, her nose, hands and intuition.” Tina had tipped the scales as a diabetic at 560 pounds, but proudly states she stepped up to the bat with that one and hit a home run. She’s hundreds of pounds lighter now. Married with two children, Shyla (14) and Greg (12), Tina works at The French School, where she is also Co-Chair of the School’s Parents Council. She proudly notes that the Canadian Institute for the Blind “lit her fire” and got her moving on a successful road to recovery. Introduced to Guiding Eyes for the Blind by a former student, and having received an immediate and gracious response from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she started the application ball rolling. Tina describes herself as opinionated, outspoken and outgoing, but knows “when to back off.” She is an athlete and trained horses for seven years. Tina feels that she knows the personality of animals, and so especially appreciates Granite, a male black Lab that anticipates her every move. He knows her already and is so responsive that she is confident he will be there 100% to help her in her busy life. What she likes most about herself is that she is strong-willed and eager to learn. Tina looks forward to getting back into the Rehab program (she has 1 1/2 years left) after which she will be an official therapist for sports-related injuries and will ultimately be known as “Dr. Tina Plischke.” Asked what her impression of Guiding Eyes for the Blind was, she broke out with a broad smile and said, “much more than I could ever imagine. It is great! The trainers are not quick to judge, and they are patient and willing to go the extra mile. If it weren’t for this School, I would not be able to become who I want to be. They have gone to the extreme in being patient with me: bit by bit, not all at once and one on one!”

Christopher Randazzo and Irving

Christopher Randazzo hails from Flushing, New York and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his second dog, Irving. Christopher says that he made the choice of Guiding Eyes for the Blind following the sage advice of his Counselor from the Jewish Guild for the Blind. He was rendered sightless as a result of corneal transplants and glaucoma when he was 48. Christopher, now, at the age of 53, lives by the premise of supporting others and lending a helping hand. Born in Brooklyn, Christopher has fond memories of growing up in the country as one of six children near Howe Caverns in upstate New York. He states what is quite obvious when you meet him. He is outgoing, happy-go-lucky, likes people and loves to be in the thick of things. (He is also an avid cell phone user.) Christopher has lived with his partner Frank, a hairdresser, for approximately three years. Formerly a Xerox operator, Christopher turned to dabbling in the stock market and became a serious investor in order to keep his head above water financially. Christopher loves to go for walks, to movies and to dinner with friends. He also plans and participates in activities for Visions, a blind rehabilitation agency in New York City. Christopher says that when Irving comes home, he will join his retired guide dog, whom Frank has adopted, plus four cats. Speaking of Irving, Christopher describes him as friendly, inquisitive, energetic and an excellent guide. He knows that Irving will get him back on track and enable him to enjoy safe and effective mobility in the big city. Christopher likes to go into Manhattan on a daily basis and enjoys the many things that the city has to offer. In speaking of how he feels about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Christopher claims it is certainly one of the best, most supportive, problem-solving schools for the blind in the United States. “It just cannot be beat.” He added, “I think this class is an excellent one. We all get along well together!”

Virginia Schoen and Hudson

Phoenix, Arizona is the home of Virginia Schoen, who at the age of 85 has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first guide dog, Hudson, a male black Labrador Retriever. Virginia is the proud mother of a girl and two boys and has five grandchildren. Although reticent (at her age) to even consider a guide dog, Virginia’s daughter convinced her that she should attend a conference where Guiding Eyes for the Blind was well represented along with other schools. Virginia was sold. She had been diagnosed with macular degeneration, but discovered when she was visiting Yosemite 2 1/2 years ago, that she really couldn’t adequately view the stupendous splendor of that magnificent park. Virginia describes her personality as one that enables her to get along well with people. She is positive, sensitive and outgoing. She worked in Chicago until 1941 at the City National Bank as a teller, then later in customer service, retiring in 1984. Happily married for 53 years, her husband is now deceased. She states that her marriage marked the beginning of a joyous and wonderfully full life. During that time she loved to knit, sew and go camping. She says that Hudson is very bright, obedient and loving. “He’s wonderful. He responds to my direction and when I am in doubt, he definitely takes charge.” She knows when she returns to Phoenix Hudson will afford her more mobility and freedom of choice when it comes to: “What shall I do today?” In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Virginia stated: “They are terrific. They couldn’t be nicer and more patient with me.” Virginia states that her favorite day is Sunday- a wonderful day that she spends with family and friends.

Kate Weese and Yellsea

Indianapolis, Indiana is the home of Kate Weese, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her second dog, Yellsea, a black female Labrador. Kate came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind through the advice of a next-door neighbor and has remained duly impressed with the school. Kate has limited vision as the result of cataracts, which she has had since birth. Self described as a pragmatist, Kate thinks the best of everyone and although a self-confessed introvert, is creative and sensitive to tending to the needs of others. Kate studied at the University of Missouri’s Kansas City Conservatory of Music to hone and nourish her musical skills, specifically in voice and composition. Kate has been an active member of a Presbyterian Church there and worked with Steven’s Ministry, a care-oriented arm of the church for those in need. Kate says she would eventually like to work at the public library. When asked what/or who has inspired her most in her life, Kate thoughtfully answered: “The Statue of Liberty: She stands tall, as a symbol of strength and acceptance and embraces all who look upon her image.” Kate is also an avid reader, likes working on computers and with photography. She especially loves working with Legos, and presently is constructing a train that will be part of a cityscape. Describing Yellsea’s personality, she says she is sweet, very responsive, plays well and really wants to please. Kate knows, that in order to successfully cope with the urban environment in Indianapolis, Yellsea will be of inestimable value in enabling her to go places which have before been inaccessible to her. She noted a lot of positive changes at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “It is a school where patient and thoughtful concentration is given to fulfilling the need (s) of each student.