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May 2012 Graduating Class

Our Graduates:
Matthew Brown & Adela
Paula Alexandre Pires Caldeira & Markham
Wayne Day & Drake
Randall Durrigan & Vanilla
Patricia Eisenhandler & Raven
Jose Lopez-Masso & Hartley
Richard Shockey & Thor
Claudia Patricia Fernandes Soares & Orleans
Tanya Wszalek & Wanda
Phil & Dora

Home Training Graduates:
Janet Marcous and Hobbs

Many thanks to our instructors:
Miranda Beckmann, Class Supervisor
Erik Wright, Class Instructor
Kate Schroer-Shepord, Class Instructor
Graham Buck, ACTION Instructor, International Program
Gerald Brenninkmeyer, ACTION Instructor
Dell Rodman, Home Training Field Representative
Hope Smith, Instructor Assistant


Matthew Brown and Adela

Matt, 41, received fifth guide dog Adela, a female black Labrador.  Matt has been blind since birth and first came to Guiding Eyes at 18 years old after being recommended by friends.  Matt grew up in New York and currently lives in Queens.  He started his undergraduate career at NYU, and later graduated from SUNY New Paltz.  He moved to Florida for nine years, during which time he earned his Masters degree in special education at the University of South Florida.  With transportation being more difficult in Florida, Matt moved back to New York and now teaches math, reading, and writing to 7th graders who are emotionally disturbed.  He has been able to use his guide dogs as rewards for the students when they do well in school and show good behavior.

When he is not teaching, Matt enjoys reading and spending time on the computer.  He considers himself an “electronic nut.”  Matt also likes listening to music and has an extensive collection of over 1500 CDs.  Baking is another of his many hobbies, and last year he made trays of cookies for 18 people at Christmas time.  Matt also loves exploring New York City, which has been made much easier with his guide dogs.

Though the transition between guide dogs can sometimes be difficult, Matt explained that having a guide dog has made an enormous impact on his life.  He has become totally independent and said “having a guide dog makes you feel like you can conquer the world.”  He is now able to shoot down the busy sidewalks of New York City with confidence and ease.  Matt says he would advise other blind people to explore the possibility of having a guide dog and determine if it is the right option for them.  For Matt, guide dogs have made all the difference.  “I keep coming back to Guiding Eyes because it’s like home; there’s always somebody you know here that cares about you.”

Listen to Matt sing “The Impossible Dream”


Paulo Alexandre Pires Caldeira and Markham

Paulo lost his sight at the age of five due to glaucoma from rubella.  He is now 38 and is receiving his first guide dog, a male black Labrador, Markham.  Paulo travelled to Guiding Eyes all the way from Portugal, where he is happily married and works as an information technologist at a local university.  He is currently in his second year of law school to become a specialist in Information Technology Law, and will be in school for four to five more years.

Paulo enjoys listening to music and playing the piano, as well as reading, walking, and cooking.  Since it is his first time working with a guide dog, Paulo describes the experience as being completely different than walking with a cane.  Markham has not only become a companion for Paulo, but provides him with the opportunity to be increasingly independent and mobile, and also gives him a greater sense of security.  He says that, “all blind people should have a guide dog.”  Paulo is looking forward to returning to Portugal with Markham, where they will receive additional training from Portuguese trainers, and he will be able to incorporate a guide dog into his active lifestyle.


Wayne Day and Drake

Wayne, 58, first came to Guiding Eyes 24 years ago, and is now receiving his fifth guide dog Drake, a male black Labrador.  Wayne lost his sight when he was 26 years old after a fall from a 14-foot telephone pole.  The impact of the landing caused hemorrhaging, and several surgeries later he was left completely blind.  Although this life-changing event was tough, Wayne considers himself to be “the happiest blind man in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.”

Wayne graduated from White Plains High School and went on to live in North Carolina.  After receiving his teaching degree from UNCC, Wayne taught history and government for five years.  He continues to be a huge Carolina Tar Heels fan to this day.  Wayne will be returning home to his wife of 29 years, their five children and his eight grandchildren.  They have two dogs, a turtle, and a snake at home, so Drake will be welcomed into a family of animal lovers.  Wayne works as an informational clerk at the post office.  His love for music led him to create his own production company, which he can run right out of the recording studio in his home.

Having a guide dog has made a significant impact on Wayne’s life.  He says that they have enabled him to be free.  He would recommend a guide dog to anyone who is active because the independence and the ability to move so much better with a dog cannot be beat.


Randall Durtigan and Vanilla

After being recommended to Guiding Eyes through friends, Randy is going home with his first ever guide dog, Vanilla, a female yellow Labrador.  Randy is 68 years old and a Massachusetts resident.  He lost his sight at age 60 due to shingles.  He is very excited to have Vanilla to guide him around his town.  Randy will be going home to his wife, son, daughter, stepson and five grandchildren.

Randy joined the military at age 17 and served in the Air Force for four years.  Once he was done serving, Randy was an electrical inspector and contractor.  He is now retired but serves on the local school board and has volunteered at the Providence VA Hospital.  He enjoys playing on his computer and occasionally golfing.  Even after just a month with Vanilla, Randy has had a very positive experience and would recommend getting a guide dog to anyone who is active.

Listen to Randy speak at graduation.


Patricia Eisenhandler and Raven

Patty is matched with her sixth guide dog, a female black Labrador named Raven.  Patty is 64 years old and from New York.  Patty has been with Guiding Eyes for 46 years, having first come when she was only 18 years old and still in high school.  Patty lost her sight when she was eleven as a result of the measles, which is believed to have also been part of an onset of multiple sclerosis.

Patty earned her Bachelor’s Degree in special education from Russell Sage College, and then went on to earn her Masters Degree in reading education from the same institution.  She then worked as a reading specialist with students at a special education facility.  Patty now works at the New York State Education Department as an assistant in special education.  Patty enjoys walking, doing crochet and gardening in her backyard.  Patty says that having a guide dog has enriched her life by enabling her to walk more freely in her community and has given her so much more independence and freedom.  Even though each transition to a new guide dog is different, each dog becomes a part of the family and a great companion.


Jose Lopez-Masso and Hartley

Jose Lopez-Masso returns for his second guide dog – male black Lab Hartley.  Together they will return home to Florida.

Jose was born in Venezuela and earned his law degree there.  He was Vice Secretary of Justice and was ultimately transferred to Germany as head of the Venezuelan embassy.  While in Germany, Jose earned his Masters degree in business.  In 2002, Jose lost his sight as a result of glaucoma and cornea transplants.  Today he works as a development director for The Lighthouse.

Jose has always been passionate about the ocean, and he met his marine biologist wife at the Miami Sea Aquarium.  They enjoy sailing together and Jose has become certified as a deep sea diver.  The family is keeping Jose’s retired guide and his daughter considers him her dog now.

When asked about his experience with Hartley, Jose said, “His guide skills are impeccable, and he has a stylish personality. I am compelled to add ‘sir’ to his name.  His head is always held high and I feel he doesn’t need water; I can just bring him a cup of tea.”  Jose also shares, “A cane gives you the ability to walk around relatively safely.  A guide dog gives you back your dignity as a human being.”


Richard Shockey and Thor

Dick is receiving his third dog from Guiding Eyes, a male black Labrador named Thor.  He lost his sight gradually in his mid 40s, and first came to Guiding Eyes in 1996.  Born and raised in Ohio, Dick received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Cleveland State University.  He went on to obtain a Masters degree from Duke University, and did focus studies at Rutgers University.  He worked in family therapy and chemical addictions and is now happily retired.

Having lived in Florida for the last 28 years and counting, Dick is anxious to bring Thor home to meet the other four dogs that live with him and his roommate.  Aside from his love for dogs, Dick enjoys reading and listening to classical music.  He used to play piano before he lost his sight but has continued his love for music by taking up singing.  He sings with both a large chorus and a small quintet in Orlando, and each hold performances in the local area.

Dick’s guide dogs have provided invaluable independence and mobility.  They’ve served as conversation starters he has made several new friends over the years as a result.  Dick believes it is important to remember that life is a learning experience, and traveling with a guide dog is a new way to learn and explore the world, even without sight.


Claudia Patricia Fernandes Soares and Orleans

Patricia, 21, came to Guiding Eyes from Almada, Portugal.  Patricia’s sight loss was gradual until she became totally blind at 15.  She had been waiting to receive a guide dog in Portugal but was selected to Guiding Eyes for her training.  Orleans, a female yellow Labrador, is Patricia’s first guide dog, and she will receive follow up training in Portugal with Portuguese trainers.

Patricia is currently studying psychology at a local Portuguese university and aspires to become a clinical psychologist.  She enjoys reading, listening to music and spending time with her friends.  Patricia is excited to bring Orleans home with her; she believes Orleans will bring her increased independence and security, and above all, more dignity.



Tanya Wszalek and Wanda

Tanya is very excited to bring her third Guiding Eyes dog, black Labrador Wanda, home to her two children.  Tanya is 53 years old and from New York.  She first lost her sight at age 43 when she suffered from a brain tumor and a stroke.  Though her sight is not completely gone, she has no peripheral vision and very limited central vision.

After two years of high school, Tanya studied cosmetology at the Harkness School.  She worked as a clerk in the post office and now loves to spend her time volunteering at an elementary school.  Tanya also enjoys crochet, Sudoku and word search puzzles.  Having a guide dog has impacted Tanya in an immense way.  She says she feels much safer in the streets, and enjoys the wonderful companionship she has with each dog.  “Guiding Eyes is a phenomenal program and having a guide dog has been the best experience of my life.”




Phil and Dora

Phil is matched with a female yellow Labrador named Dora.  She is his fourth guide dog from Guiding Eyes.

Phil majored in music at Berkeley College.  He was a music teacher and jazz musician who enjoyed a 12-year career playing the keyboard.  In 1993, glaucoma caused total blindness and he had to adjust his career path.  Phil returned to graduate school, majoring in public administration. Today he works at a non-profit human services agency placing people with disabilities and job skills into positions at government buildings. He has earned national awards for his job performance, is an officer with the State Disability Policy Consortium, a member of the Rehab Council for the State Commission for the Blind and a member of the Carroll Society for the Blind.

Phil enjoys travel with his wife and son, and the couple regularly hosts dinner parties at home for the young internationals his wife works with.  Phil remarks, “I am visible to thousands of people and always have an opportunity to represent the best a guide dog brings to my life.  I take the time to answer questions and encourage others to engage in conversations that raise awareness.  A handicap is merely a perception, not a reality.”