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May 2017 Graduating Class

May 2017 class photo

We are delighted to be part of this most worthwhile celebration.
Colleen & Marc Schain

It is a privilege to help sponsor this outstanding program.
Orman “Skip” Leighton, DVM

We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our
video streaming capabilities.

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:
Anthony & Hilda
Ben & Yogi
Calvin & Dixon (S)
Patricia & Ryker
Patti & Pam
Rebekah & Rally

ACTION Training
Eileen & Aris

HOME Training
Elizabeth & Norrie
Rita & Maribeth
Robin & Yumi
Russell & Ibbie

(S):  The donor listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dog:
•  Dixon was special-named by the Jacksonville Beaches Lions Club.

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our instructors:
Class Supervisor: Kathryn Poallo

Class Instructors: Alyssa Tilley, Mike Ceglio
Instructor Assistant: Katherine Russell

ACTION Training:
Graham Buck, Assistant Director of Training

HOME Training:
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training Instructor
Megan Crowley, Home Training Instructor
Jessy D’Napoli, Special Needs Instructor


Anthony & HildaA. Gebhardt & Hilda1

“Coming to Guiding Eyes for Hilda, my first guide dog, has probably been the most inspiring experience of my life,” says Tony. Born with Proliferative vitreoretinopathy, a condition that prevents a detached retina from healing, Tony lost his right retina at the age of two and underwent over 50 surgeries on his left eye. He was legally blind for most of his childhood. At the age of nine, an accident led to the complete loss of sight in his left eye as well. “But I never let anything stop me,” says Tony, now 20.

Like most kids, Tony enjoyed playing sports and video games. But after his father bought him a guitar, he discovered his true passion is making music. Tony began spending hours in the basement practicing, ultimately sharing his talents as a vocalist and guitar player through talent shows, choir, and other venues. His first band, which Tony formed as an 8th grader, played all across his home state of Michigan.

Nowadays, Tony collaborates with other musicians online, writes his own lyrics, and plays a variety of instruments. He also enjoys working on the production side of things as an audio engineer. In addition to music, Tony loves to travel and to share positive thoughts and ideas online through blogging.

What’s next? College might be in the cards, thanks in part to Hilda, a black Lab. “She’s already motivated me to go back to school,” says Tony. “And I want to travel with her, too—I want to take her around the world.”

Congratulations to Hilda’s puppy raisers, The Walker Family!


Ben & YogiB. Johnson & Yogi1

After Ben was injured in an accident, he decided it was time to call Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Just nine months later, Ben found himself at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, getting acquainted with Yogi, a friendly and beautiful black Lab.

Though legally blind since childhood, Ben hasn’t let anything slow him down—not congenital glaucoma, 30 surgeries on his eyes, seven heart attacks, or a stroke. A factory machine operator in his home state of Ohio, Ben is looking forward to putting some Guiding Eyes class pictures of Yogi on the bulletin board at work.

Ben serves as an officer with his local “aerie” of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an international group that raises money for charities. “I honestly just like helping people,” he says. In his free time Ben enjoys fishing, bowling, and staying active. But he’s also not your typical exercise buff. A tinkerer at his core, Ben is the proud inventor of a privately patented total body workout machine that he built by hand.

As for Yogi, he’ll likely get his own workouts in by spending lots of time outdoors with Ben—playing fetch and testing out some new chew toys. “Yogi is playful,” says Ben. “But he also loves to work.”

Ben appreciates the personal attention that Guiding Eyes trainers and staff have shown him during his weeks of training. “They give us the tools, then it’s up to us to sharpen them.” These Guiding Eyes guide dogs, he says, provide a sense of safety, freedom, and confidence.

Congratulations to Yogi’s puppy raisers, The Woodward Family!


Calvin & DixonC.  Earley & Dixon1

Calvin decided to explore his options after his retinitis pigmentosa led to serious vision issues two years ago. “I didn’t know what a guide dog would do or what its responsibilities were,” he says. Over the course of his 21-day residential training, Calvin came away with Dixon, a male black Lab, and a true appreciation for the freedom and assistance that a guide can offer.

“Dixon is Superman,” he says with a smile. You might say that Calvin is a real-life Superman himself. He was born without a right hand and survived stomach cancer. He grew up in Chicago, one of 18 children, at a time when children with handicaps were sent to special schools. Calvin’s mother fought hard to ensure equal treatment for her son. “You’re as good as anyone else,” she would tell him. Eventually she secured a place for Calvin in a regular public school.

But the struggle didn’t end there. In high school, Calvin was placed in the remedial track due to his disability. Calvin told his guidance counselor that he belonged in the regular classes because he wanted to go to college. Calvin was accepted into the University of Illinois where he earned a degree in finance and banking.

Discrimination and injustice were still ingrained in the system, though, and Calvin was unable to secure the type of employment he had worked so hard for. “But that didn’t stop me,” he says. He eventually landed a position as a revenue officer for the IRS before returning to his alma mater to work in the finance department where he remained until his retirement.

These days Calvin enjoys going to the gym, singing at his church, and learning—always learning. He’s also thinking about ways to contribute to Guiding Eyes, perhaps through a fundraiser. “I want to give something back to Guiding Eyes,” says Calvin. “I have always had to beat the odds. Now I can enjoy my freedom to be a normal person, with Dixon by my side.”

Congratulations to Dixon’s puppy raisers, Pat Webber and Rachel Bell!


Eileen & ArisE.  Brown & Aris1

“Everything was a totally new experience,” says Eileen, recalling how life changed after she brought home her first Guiding Eyes dog nearly 20 years ago. “It was freedom. I didn’t have to worry about being safe. I felt like we could conquer the world.”

Eileen’s vision began to deteriorate when she was in her 20s due to retinitis pigmentosa and continued to grow progressively worse over the course of 40 years. She has been totally blind for the past two years. Still, life went on for Eileen. While sending her son off to college, she realized that she wanted to go too. To fulfill that dream, she knew she would have to become independent. Enter Jitney, a male black Guiding Eyes Lab, in 1998. At age 50, Eileen went back to school and earned a degree in psychology and sociology at the City University of New York.

Eileen had been without a guide dog for two years before Guiding Eyes matched her with Aris, a black-and-tan male Lab and her third Guiding Eyes guide. Her previous guide had died, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder, had left her paralyzed. Medical professionals suggested she decide on a goal to work toward during the long months she would spend in recovery. That goal was clear: to get well enough so she could live independently again with the help of a guide dog. “Nothing was going to stop me,” says Eileen. And when she finally got her guide? “My world has opened again.”

Nowadays, Eileen is enjoying her retirement on Staten Island, NY, by eating out, listening to music, taking walks with her friends, and spending as much time as possible with her grandkids, ages 2 and 6.

Eileen participated in our accelerated ACTION program for experienced guide dog users. Guiding Eyes, she says, offered her both independence and companionship. “With a guide, I don’t feel blind,” she says. “I’m on a par with everyone else.”

Congratulations to Aris’s puppy raiser, Jean Silverman!


Patricia & RykerP. Kelly & Ryker1

Patricia still remembers how profoundly it affected her when she received her first guide dog decades ago. “It was just a really good feeling. I was thinking, ‘This is as close to being free as I’m ever going to get.’ ”

Patricia lost her sight when she was six weeks old, the result of her premature birth and oxygen deficiency. She grew up west of Philadelphia and attended the Overbrook School for the Blind. A graduate of Immaculata University, Patricia has been a social worker since 1974. She currently works for a community-based organization, helping individuals who are intellectually disabled secure employment.

In her free time, Patricia enjoys swimming, reading, and socializing with family and friends. She is also a passionate advocate for the rights of people who are blind and recalls a time in the not-so-distant past when people with guide dogs were refused admittance to certain restaurants and stores.

Ryker, a yellow male Lab, is Patricia’s seventh guide dog, her first with Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “He’s very calm, very laid back, very assured. He knows what he needs to do, and he does it.”

Mobility is important to her, Patricia says, but so are the feelings of dignity and equality that having a guide dog by her side affords her. “Thanks to Ryker, I can go where my friends and family go,” she says proudly. “I can keep up.”

Congratulations to Ryker’s puppy raiser, The Kust Family!


Patti & PamP. Obrien & Pam1

Patti has had retinitis pigmentosa since childhood. About five years ago, as her vision continued to deteriorate, she started using a white cane. It was about the same time that she was attending a computer skills class and noticed other students with guide dogs. Patti became curious and contacted Guiding Eyes.

We matched Patti with Pam, a yellow Lab. “Pam is making me feel very confident,” says Patti. “I can do things at a comfortable speed.” Also, her persistent safety fears—such as the possibility of tripping on cracks in the sidewalk—are much less pronounced.

Patti has led a full life and has given back to her community in many ways—as a foster mother for children with special needs, volunteering with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and doing landscaping work at a local church. She is grateful for her two supportive sons, and she loves spending time with her two grandchildren. It helps that she babysits them every day!

There is certainly a lot to look forward to when she returns to Massachusetts. Patti and Debbie, her partner of 12 years, will be moving into a new home on the water. On warm summer nights, you might even find Patti, a skilled amateur chef, cooking up one of her specialties—Shrimp Mozambique—while enjoying a cool breeze with loved ones.

Perhaps most important, there’s the sense of freedom and increased mobility that Patti sees in her immediate future with Pam. She will be able to walk to and from work, take the bus, and not have to depend on others to get around. Of her Guiding Eyes experience, she says, “The staff has given their heart and soul,” says Patti. “I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity.”

Congratulations to Pam’s puppy raisers, The Morey Family!


Rebekah & RallyR. Royster & Rally1

Rebekah is what you might call a technology pioneer—but not in the way you might think.

After receiving her B.S. in mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rebekah began working on giant mainframe computers at the computation center at UNC, back in the days of punch cards and magnetic tape. It was also a time when very few women were working in the computing field. A challenging and rewarding stint at PPG Industries followed, where Rebekah played a key role in a project related to automated fiberglass creation.

Rebekah’s progressive vision loss, due to Stargardt disease, recently resulted in legal blindness. She contacted Guiding Eyes for the Blind after hearing about our training school through an orientation and mobility instructor. Rally, a female black Lab and Rebekah’s first guide dog, is a very welcome companion. “We will be out walking in my neighborhood every day,” says Rebekah with a smile.

Rebekah is the proud mother of two grown children who live on the west coast. She enjoys traveling there to visit her four grandchildren, going to concerts, participating in church activities, playing bridge, and producing a monthly neighborhood newsletter.

“With Rally by my side,” says Rebecca, “I’m going to do things I would not have done before. I will certainly be more adventuresome with Rally than with that white cane!”

Congratulations to Rally’s puppy raiser, Marlene R. Peters!