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November 2006 Graduating Class

Meet the members of our recent training class who graduated on November 4th. Their uplifting stories reflect determination to lead independent lives with greater freedom to fulfill their personal goals. Please consider providing your support to future guide dog teams like them.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Anita Bonano and Ephram

Anita Bonanno has come all the way from Houston, Texas for her third dog, Ephram, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Born with retinopathy of prematurity and cerebral palsy, Anita came to New York in 1995 as a guest artist for Lighthouse International. Soon thereafter, she applied to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first guide dog. Anita has sung (and still does) professionally in opera, Broadway, and various places of worship. When she returns home, she will begin a new job as Customer Relations Advisor for Texas Medical Center in Houston. Anita is a 53-year-old woman, happily married for 20 years. Ephram is a quiet, and mellow yellow Lab, who although he enjoys his own independence, also is happy to be at Anita’s side. He is always ready to receive and give back affection and obedience. Anita expects that the major challenges that Ephram will face as they return to Texas will be his becoming adjusted to a new area climate-wise and learning how to behave with attentive decorum in front of a concert audience. She has no doubt that Ephram will catch on quickly. Anita is a member of Guiding Eyes’ Graduate Council, for which she serves as a Special Needs representative. She is enthusiastic in her praise of the staff and instructors, especially Andrea, with whom she and Ephram have been training. “Words,” says Anita, “somehow seem inadequate when I try to describe my devotion to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The training here is incredible. Every time I come back here, it’s like returning home.”

Stasia Giles and Duncan

Concord, North Carolina is the home of Stasia Giles, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first guide dog, Duncan, a black Lab. She applied to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of a referral from Services for the Blind in NC. Stasia began to lose her sight as the result of retinitis pigmentosa when she was eight years old. Now at the age of 30, married with two children, she decided that a dog would enable her to enjoy a fuller life with her family and give her more independence. She and her husband both earned their Bachelor of Theology degrees at Life Bible College and are now serving as Associate Pastors at their church. Stasia is Assistant Director of a child care center there, as well. She anticipates that the children will be ecstatic when they meet her new companion and have a dog in their home! She likes to have fun and is recognized as a motivated leader. Duncan is also highly motivated as a leader. He is obedient, affectionate and certainly responds to playtime with ebullience each day. When asked, as a first-timer, of her impression of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she responded, “I am absolutely overwhelmed! This place is awesome. The accommodations, the students, the trainers are all phenomenal. They take care of us better than if we were actually paying customers!” Stasia is eagerly looking forward to returning home with Duncan and introducing him to her family.

Bill Kennedy and Amos

Newark, New Jersey is the home of William (Bill) Kennedy, who has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fifth dog, Amos. Bill lost partial sight in 1966 as the result of a serious chemical burn. Subsequent surgeries and glaucoma caused him ultimately to seek help in getting around his world. At that point, he credits Guiding Eyes for the Blind trainer, the late Ted Zubrycki, as wielding a great influence in his life. Bill’s own family means a lot to him as he was fatherless at the age of 12, and without a mom at age 24. He has been married for 56 years, has four children, 10 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Initially a machinist for General Dynamics, he is a strong believer in the scriptural admonition to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and is now engaged in doing just that. Bill works in a church outreach ministry on the streets of Newark, distributing clothing, food and spiritual “bread.” He has a deep faith in God and strong spiritual life, which cause him to live in peace and contentment. Amos is dutiful, obedient and friendly and together they form a perfect partnership. Bill says, “I know Amos will help me to move wherever I need to go!” Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Bill has retained his impression that he expressed when he first came to the school: “It’s great – like one big happy family!”

Tina Luce and Peyton

Tina Luce calls Salem, Massachusetts home and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her fourth dog, Peyton, a black and tan Lab. Tina has been blind since birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity. While still in high school, she felt she needed more freedom and independence. Tina acted upon the strong recommendation of her friends to apply to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog. She then went to college to obtain her Bachelors in Music Education followed by a Masters in Creative Art Therapy with Music Concentration. She has since taught music for Junior High students and internshiped in mental hospitals’ day treatment programs with the blind and in prisons. Tina, a talented musician, has produced several spiritual CDs which feature her piano playing and lovely voice. They also reflect her strong faith in God. She presently works as Worship Leader in a local Methodist Church and serves other congregations, as well. Peyton is “a sound and stable thinker, dependable and quite independent.” She gave him high praise for saving her from impending serious danger on a traffic walk the day before our interview. Tina feels that each day is a day of “grace”. Her praises for Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “It’s like coming home. They do whatever they can to ensure the perfect match.”

Carl Meiborg and Gem

Carl Meiborg, from Rockford, Illinois has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Gem. Carl became legally blind six years ago from damage to his retina as a result of diabetes. He would like to be able to enjoy the companionship of a dog, travel about by foot in safety and return to his former job as a semi-dispatcher. His mobility instructor suggested that he apply to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. A father of three and grandfather of an 11-month old boy, Carl is reliving his former days as a “daddy” with his grandson. Gem has a loveable and affectionate disposition and is eager to claim her master’s attention whenever she can, especially when she senses the possibility of a “belly rub.” Carl knows that riding on public transportation, walking on and crossing streets, and training Gem on his home turf will enable him to move about with more confidence and ease. He knows Gem will considerably change his life for the better. Right now, Carl is looking forward to enjoying companionship with Gem, whether it be going for a walk on a nearby bike path, playing, grooming or just talking to her. Describing his experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “They do a great job. Unbelievable!”

Himelda and Custer

A native of Mexico, Himelda Mendez came to Richmond Hill, New York five years ago as a teenager, under the sponsorship of The Commission for the Blind. Himelda lost her sight as the result of congenital cataracts and glaucoma. Her family lived on a farm there and she did not attend school. Although her initial purpose in coming to the United States was to help take care of her nieces and nephews, she entered high school here and proudly graduated with a high school diploma. Her life, at the same time, was comprised of cooking, being with young children, animals, and caring for the elderly. Now at the age of 21, Himelda hopes to attend college in the U.S. Himelda came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of recommendations from people she knew and trusted, and was given further encouragement by Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s quick response to her application. Himelda was matched with Custer, a black male Lab. He is smart, playful, gentle and obedient. They fell in love. “I don’t know exactly how having Custer will impact my life, but I trust him and know everything will be so much better, especially when I go to college.” Himelda is particularly impressed by her classmates and instructors at Guiding Eyes for the Blind – by their ever-constant support and understanding on some of her most difficult days during training. “This is truly what heaven must be like!”

Randy Pierce and Quinn

New Hampshire is the home of Randy Pierce, who has come for his second dog, Quinn, his first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Randy received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and became a hardware designer/engineer.

Randy is blind due to a rather complex, undiagnosed neurological disorder of the brain which had consigned him to a wheelchair. He came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of advice from his mobility instructor and information viewed on the WEB. Today, Randy is no longer on wheels. Using a cane, he proudly and effectively is able to walk. He is a solid athlete, has written a book, taught martial arts, tutored at an adult learning center, has done a good deal of motivational speaking, has been interviewed on radio shows, and hosts fund raisers for charity. Quinn will have no problem keeping up with his new master. Although somewhat aloof and liking his “own space,” Randy says that when Quinn works, he is outstanding and shifts right into high gear. Randy feels he will enjoy a new freedom and having Quinn will increase the range and ease of his activity. “At Guiding Eyes the instructors do not use the term “if you succeed.” They do everything possible to see that you do!”

Lorraine Sclafani and Gatsby

Parlin, New Jersey is the hometown of Lorraine Sclafani, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Gatsby. Lorraine, a former bookkeeper, became blind as the result of multiple sclerosis. Her first episode occurred in 1985 when she was pregnant with her third child. By 1995, she was totally blind. Lorraine contacted Guiding Eyes for the Blind on the advice she received from The Commission for the Blind. Lorraine does volunteer work for the Commission at JFK Hospital when she is feeling up to it. She is also taking a one-hour lesson per week on a Yamaha keyboard from MAVIS – Musical Association for Visually Impaired Students. Her piano instructor there has had three dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Gatsby is very mellow and quietly complements Lorraine’s personality with his obedience and par excellence behavior. She fully expects that Gatsby will be a joy and great companion and aid in helping her get around her apartment complex and streets with increased safety and ease. She expressed particular appreciation for the Special Needs Program offered by Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “The patient and kind instruction rendered by Special Needs instructor, Andrea, has substantially encouraged and established my confidence in my own ability to navigate.”

Bill S. and Tighlman

Bill S will take his new companion, Tighlman (pronounced Til-men) to his recently established home in New York. Born legally blind, Bill retained some sight until the age of 14, when retinal detachment claimed it entirely. Bill had read “Planet of the Blind,” a book authored by Guiding Eyes graduate, Steve Kuusisto. The book awakened Bill’s curiosity about guide dogs and how such a companion could impact his life. Thus, seven years ago, Bill applied to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, who is now retired with Bill’s parents in North Carolina. Bill is a musician. He received his bachelor’s degree in Music Composition/Listening and Improvisation and a masters degree in Piano Performance. His focus and joy now lies in the field of jazz. He is on the faculty of the Walden School and is currently working on a comprehensive textbook focusing on jazz musicianship. When that is finished, he plans to resume work on a memoir, “Blind Contours: Improvisation and The Quest for Self-Compassion.” Tighlman loves to relax in serene contentment but also wants to work and be “on the go.” He is highly affectionate and very playful. Bill stated that he will never forget this class: its members filled with sensitivity, laughter and fun; the effective, kind and intelligent guidance of the instructors and the Guiding Eyes for the Blind organization itself. And, of course, the dogs!

Sharon Tiner and Van Dyke

Sharon Tiner has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Brookline, Massachusetts for her second dog from the School. Van Dyke is a yellow Lab. Born with myopic retinal degeneration, Sharon first lost the sight in her left eye when she was 16 years old after which her right eye suffered gradual loss. She held a very responsible position as Unit Coordinator for 32 years at the Brookline Deaconess Medical Center, where she said she “organized everything.” She made the important decision to acquire a dog after she was hit by a car on two separate occasions. Sharon was attracted to Guiding Eyes for the Blind by a school representative. Having been so busy with her career, she now feels somewhat of a prisoner of inactivity and ensuing boredom. Sharon knows that Van Dyke is just the dog to perk her up and to motivate her to get out and about and not focus on herself. He has a great personality and is an excellent match. Sharon’s accolades for Guiding Eyes for the Blind are endless: “The trainers work hard and are scrupulous in their observations which lead them to choose the right dog for each person. I am totally impressed with the school. The atmosphere here is so great! “