May 2009 Graduating Class

 In Graduations

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated in May 2009.

Class Picture 5/2009

  • Connie Bach and Rocko
  • Debra Boddie and Eva
  • Neala Dawson and Fergus
  • Sylvia Er-Wood and Dawson
  • Susan Etters and Panzy
  • Mike Feeny and Garth
  • Brian Fischler and Nash
  • Kathleen Lyons and Yarnell
  • Joann McSorely and Macon
  • Cora Miller and Bart
  • Vicky Prahin and Nicole
  • Nicky Stamper and Badger

And many thanks to our instructors:

  • Miranda Beckmann, Class Supervisor
  • Susan Kroha, Instructor
  • Christina Vetrano, Instructor
  • Maranda Murray, Instructor’s Assistant

Connie Bach and RockoConnie Bach and Rocko

Entering college with first guide by her side

Nineteen-year-old Connie Bach of Illinois came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Rocko, her first guide dog. One of five siblings, Connie was born with optic nerve hypoplasia. She will enter college in the fall, where she will be a first year journalism major. She feels that, with Rocko by her side, she will be better prepared to face college’s academic rigors and to navigate the college campus. Connie is an avid reader and writes poetry. Her shy demeanor is in contrast to one of her favorite pastimes: listening to heavy metal. As she looks forward to her new life with Rocko, Connie maintains a cautious yet optimistic mindset. She says her quiet, obedient dog will give her the “confidence to venture out of my comfort zone, teach me responsibility, and get me through whatever problems arise.” And, she adds, “Guiding Eyes has given me hope for a bright and productive future.”

Debra Boddie and EvaDebra Boddie and Eva

Graduate with a heart as big as Texas

Debra (Debbie) Boddie, 44, came from Texas for her second guide, Eva. About ten years ago, Debbie was left with only tunnel vision due to retinitis pigmentosa and Usher syndrome. She came to Guiding Eyes at the advice of her local Commission for the Blind. As a wife and mother of two daughters, Debbie admits to being very protective of her family. She is an active member of her church and enjoys creating handcrafts, such as drawings, paintings, and scrapbooks. Debbie is confident that Eva will be a competent and dependable guide. Of Guiding Eyes, Debbie has nothing but praise: “This is the very best school with a wonderful, talented and understanding staff even by Texan standards.”

Neala Dawson and FergusNeala Dawson and Fergus

Performer learns new dance with fifth guide dog

Neala Dawson, 61, of Pennsylvania came to Guiding Eyes for Fergus, her fifth guide dog. Retinopathy of prematurity left her blind at birth. Neala is a performer; she does modern and interpretive dancing, sings, and drums. She also teaches Sunday school. Neala has already formed a strong bond with Fergus, and knows that he will be an invaluable guide. Fergus will help her move around the congested city in which she lives, and keep her safe as she travels to her numerous destinations.

Sylvia Er-Wood and DawsonSylvia Er-Wood and Dawson

Travel to work and school made easier with support from third guide

Sylvia Er-Wood returned from Nevada for her third dog from Guiding Eyes, Dawson. Sylvia was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and, after running an extremely high fever, lost her sight at the age of seven. Sylvia is a busy, independent, hard-working person, and is employed at the Las Vegas Center for the Blind. Here she conducts marketing phone calls for computer recycling. She is also working on completing her Associates Degree. In her spare time she enjoys beading crafts, walking, and listening to both R&B and soft rock music. Sylvia was without a guide for a year, and so looks forward to regaining her independence with Dawson. Sylvia reflects on her experiences with Guiding Eyes and firmly says that “I would never go anywhere else.”

Susan Etters and PanzySusan Etters and Panzy

Every creature comfort awaits third Guiding Eyes dog

Susan Etters returned to Guiding Eyes for her third dog, Panzy. A resident of Pennsylvania, Susan works as a switchboard operator for Blind and Vision Rehabilitative Services and participates in several local charities. She enjoys attending theatre productions, reading novels and socializing with friends.

Susan has thoughtfully organized her home so that Panzy will be comfortable and safe. Of her return visit to Guiding Eyes, she said, “The program at Guiding Eyes has changed over the years; today, more than ever, it is a realistic, well-planned, focused work and play environment that facilitates the bond of student and dog.”

Mike Feeny and GarthMike Feeny and Garth

Entrepreneurial outdoor enthusiast embraces first Guiding Eyes dog

Mike Feeney came from Arizona for Garth, his first guide dog from Guiding Eyes. Mike lost his sight nineteen years ago as a result of diabetic retinopathy. He has been married for nine years and owns a thriving food service business. Although he puts in 11-hour days, Mike still finds time for outdoor activities such as snow skiing and swimming. During training in Yorktown, Mike quickly found Garth to be a high-spirited companion and an attentive worker. Mike, who has been without a guide for over three years, is sure that Garth will make his busy life much easier.

Brian Fischler and NashBrian Fischler and Nash

Comedian finds new joy with Guiding Eyes Nash

New York resident Brian Fischler, 36, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of twelve, and in May came to Guiding Eyes for his first guide, Nash. Brian is a stand-up comedian, and a typical busy New Yorker. He is a Yankees fan who also frequents movies and enjoys experiencing the New York social scene with friends.

Nash and Brian quickly bonded, and Nash’s quick gait matches Brian’s fast-paced lifestyle. Brian relished his first guide dog school experience: “The school has fantastic trainers, staff, and volunteers. In today’s culture, it’s great to find a place where people really care.”

Kathleen Lyons and YarnellKathleen Lyons and Yarnell

Retired Treasury Department representative is a true Guiding Eyes advocate

Kathleen Lyons was born blind due to a missing enzyme, a rare medical condition. She has been an advocate of Guiding Eyes for the Blind since receiving her first of six guide dogs in 1982. Although Kathleen is now retired from her job as a customer service representative for the U.S. Treasury Department, she still leads a busy life. She volunteers in nursing homes, does SPCA demonstrations, reads at preschool story hours, and spends time with the Buffalo Friends of Folk Music. Kathleen asserts that her guide dogs have enabled her to lead a long fruitful life that includes service to the community. Kathleen reflects fondly on her twenty seven years with Guiding Eyes. “Among so many things, I like the family atmosphere, and the school’s puppy program,” and, she adds, that “This is the finest school in the world.”

Joann McSorely and MaconJoann McSorely and Macon

Guiding Eyes Macon to become a jazz aficionado

Joann McSorely came from Pennsylvania to Guiding Eyes for her first dog from the school, Macon. She was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease seventeen years ago. Also known as Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, this disease is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration, affecting approximately one in 10,000 children.

Joanne worked as a financial manager before having two children. She comes from a large family, as she is one of 11 siblings. She enjoys listening to music, particularly classical jazz. Her busy retirement includes teaching reading for the Special Olympics program. Joann looks forward to returning home with Macon, her new guide dog and best friend. She believes that having Macon as a companion will be great comfort to her family.

Cora Miller and BartCora Miller and Bart

Author, child advocate, embraces new school and guide

Cora Miller came from Oklahoma for, Bart, her third guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes. Her switch to Guiding Eyes was recommended by her visual service coordinator. She was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma 14 years ago and has been blind since. Married with eight children, Cora leads an active life. She is a child advocate, public speaker, active church member, volunteer at her local library, and author of a novella named Fairchild’s Find.

Cora admits to being fearful of New York, but having completed training, she reports that her Guiding Eyes experience exceeds her expectations. “The training here is excellent, and I no longer am filled with fear in this large metropolitan area.”

Vicky Prahin and NicoleVicky Prahin and Nicole

Educator finds welcoming spirit at Guiding Eyes

“I have never met anyone from Guiding Eyes for the Blind who has been negative or pessimistic. Everyone here has been personal, forthcoming and inviting.” This, from Vicky Prahin, who has come from Ohio for Nicole, her sixth guide dog, but very first from Guiding Eyes. Blind since a toddler from retina blastoma, Vicky teaches English and Business at the Hadley School for the Blind. In addition to staying in shape by walking and lifting weights, Vicky enjoys reading all genres of literature.

Vicky is confident that Nicole will facilitate her busy lifestyle, especially her business trips. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a wonderful institution; the staff is optimistic, and they work with each individual for their personal success. I admire and extol the willingness of the instructors to adapt to the needs of each student.”

Nicky Stamper and BadgerNicky Stamper and Badger

Young man finds soul mate in first guide

Following the advice of a mobility instructor and former graduate friend, 19-year old Nicky Stamper has come to Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog, Badger. Nicky was born with retinitis pigmentosa, but is always on the go. He loves walking around his home town in Kentucky, listening to country music, playing his guitar, singing, and aspires one day to be a songwriter. He is dedicated to continuing his Braille education. Badger is Nicky’s perfect match: he has a calm, obedient, and intelligent nature with which Nicky identifies. Looking forward to his new independence and responsibility, Nicky feels certain that Badger will enhance his life.

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