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September 2006 Graduating Class

Meet the members of our recent training class who graduated on September 9th. 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.

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Lionel Battle and Amos

Lionel Battle lives in our nation’s Capitol and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Amos, his first dog from the School. Blind since birth as the result of rubella, Lionel knows well that one would become more visible to the world when a dog is at your side and that companionship is also a major factor when one lives alone. He fully anticipates that Amos will fill the bill in both respects. Lionel heard about Guiding Eyes for the Blind from his friends and was quick to respond to their hearty recommendations. Lionel confides that he has a personal relationship with God and looks to Him for direction in his life. Lionel has ambitions to become active in radio broadcasting and will pursue schooling to that end. He is also a vocalist, sings in his church’s men’s choir and aspires to eventually receiving a ministerial license as well. Outgoing, energetic, a people person and good communicator, Lionel feels that his greatest strength lies in the fact that once he makes up his mind to do something he zealously pursues and achieves his goal. Amos likewise is friendly, calm, obedient and holds fast to the task before him. Exclaims Lionel: “He’s my baby!” Lionel has become a true believer in Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “What a great school! I am enjoying my stay here and feel very much at home. The instructors “stay on you” on how to manage your dog and then encourage you to “keep up the good work!” This experience has far exceeded all of my expectations.”

Annette Carr and Riley

Annette Carr, from Fairfax, Virginia, has been a strong advocate of Guiding Eyes for the Blind since acquiring her first dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in 1984. Now she has returned to the School for her sixth dog, Riley. Annette and her family have also been puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She spoke of the joy one experiences in the realization that you have given your heartfelt love, time and efforts toward enabling someone else to live a full and productive life. Annette was born with retinitis pigmentosa and her sight has degenerated progressively since. Today, she is a vital 44- year old, married 20 years with a 10-year old daughter. She describes herself as “energetic, extroverted, organized, and a team player who loves being around people.” She is well-suited for her present position(s) at George Mason University where every day is filled with identifying solutions to overcome barriers faced by many staff, faculty and students there who have disabilities. “I truly believe in what I do because I can empower others, through technology, to lead productive and happy lives.” Annette describes Riley as being very cute with gorgeous eyes; more importantly, he is a very conscientious worker, eager to please and possesses a sweet, winsome disposition. He becomes ecstatic when you tell him what a good boy he is.” For Annette, there’s no place like her second “home” at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “There is a warm, friendly atmosphere here, just like family.”

Linda Chung and Orleans

Colchester, Vermont is the home of Linda Chung, a 27-year- old young woman who has now come to Guiding Eyes for her fourth dog, Orleans, a Golden Retriever. Her decision to apply to Guiding Eyes for the Blind was generated by talking to other grads and staff, but confirmed by their quick response time to her application and subsequent home interview. Linda was termed legally blind at birth as the result of retinopathy of prematurity, followed by retinal detachment and glaucoma. Linda earned a Masters degree in Vision Rehabilitation from Western Michigan University and now works as a vision rehab therapist. She plans to go back to school to qualify for working with the deaf/blind. Linda is quick to acknowledge that she looks to God as her Lord and Master. For rest and relaxation, she enjoys nothing more than being out of doors in the company of her friends (and Orleans) enjoying fresh air and sunshine. Linda’s own propensity for an easy-going, but firm, creative and sensitive approach to challenge complements that of Orleans. “He is definitely a problem solver, is intuitive, affectionate and likes to “get out and go” with a fast pace.” With him at her side, Linda is certain that her frequent trips to conferences and seminars will be much easier. Linda made special note of the skill of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s trainers for their matching each dog to the individual student. Linda notes that she and Orleans form a true partnership. Together they radiate a feeling of anticipation and joy.

Charles Coveney and Lance

Charles Coveney now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Lance. Charles lost his sight as a result of complications following surgery for congestive heart failure in 2000. He cites his investigation of and acceptance to several other schools, but finally settled on Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon the recommendation of his mobility instructor. Charles has led a life filled with stories of excitement and variety. He was a renowned reporter/investigator for several major TV networks, has conducted many interviews with the famous in the world of sports, operated his own private investigative agency and now heads his own company, Media News Service (“Your Digital Link to the World From the Blind”). He modestly, but proudly, mentioned receiving an EMMY as producer of WOR’s 1981 film, “The War Within.” Charles describes his own personality as being inquisitive, a listener and communicator. He already knows Lance to be an amazing, receptive and alert companion. After losing his sight, Charles would not leave his house alone, and felt rather helpless without human aid. He knows that will no longer be true. After just one week at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Charles emphatically states that he would never recommend anywhere else: “this School is superb.”

Pat Hill and Jack

Patricia (Pat) Hill has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Medford, Massachusetts for her sixth dog, Jack. After her first experience at the School, she extolled its homey atmosphere, friendliness and efficiency. “When here, I always feel like I’m part of a real family!” Congenital cataracts, followed by chronic inflammation and other complications, left Pat with sporadic central vision. Despite her sight loss, Pat never lost her sense of identity. “Even in a crowd, I cannot get lost. I am sure of myself, and do not use my blindness as an excuse.” Pat received her Masters in Special Ed and initially became a teacher of deaf and blind children. She now serves as a consumer advocate, working with agencies and organizations to implement policies that would improve consumer services for the disabled. Pat describes herself as someone who, although flexible and rather laid back, “knows what she’s doing,” and possesses a distinct sense of humor and compassion for those with and for whom she works. She admits, however, to having a touch of imp hiding close under the surface. Jack is bright and alert and thinks on his feet, but she also detects a recognizable impish trait in him as well. Her daily travel in Boston presents a number of access issues and she anticipates that Jack will enable her to get back to her former level of travel and maneuverability. Pat has this to say about Guiding Eyes for the Blind: “Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s new and more effective techniques, equipment and commands that have been developed over the years, are truly winners in my book. I am most certainly a happy and satisfied consumer!”

John Justice and Jake

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania is the home of John Justice who, for 40 years, has had a guide dog in his life. Initially drawn to Guiding Eyes for the Blind because he was impressed by how well the dogs he had observed functioned, he has come back at the age of 60 for Jake, his seventh dog from the school. John’s wife of 25 years is also blind and is a Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate. Congenital glaucoma claimed John’s sight when he was a tot of three but that did not hold him back from leading an enjoyable and productive life. He has written some fascinating short stories, one a four-part tale of an orphaned eight-year old boy who traveled by train to California to live with relatives. John has worked at Fed Ex as a customer service rep for the past 13 years. In addition, he plays the piano professionally as a restaurant/cocktail lounge musician. He also tunes pianos and did just that to the instrument in the School’s living room during his stay here. John proudly states that he is an excellent communicator, who uses intelligence, experience and sensitivity in his dealings with others. He and Jake have become buddies already. Jake takes his work very seriously and adeptly matches the slower pace of his new master. John remains impressed with Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s commands and training methods, their instructors, who he says are talented, capable, patient, and go to great lengths to give comfort. “This is certainly as good as it gets!”

Betty Land and Thurgood

Betty Land calls Nacogdoches, Texas home and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Thurgood, whom she refers to as “Mr. Perfect.” Betty woke up one morning in 2002 and was “as blind as a bat,” the result of diabetic retinopathy and macular edema. She has regained a “little pocket” of sight since that day. Now in her 50’s, married for 32 years and the mom of a 26-year old son, Betty is a strong believer in quality of life. She realized her need to be more independent and to move about freely so decided to go on the internet to investigate schools. Guiding Eyes for the Blind responded immediately, so she applied instantly. Betty, a registered nurse, is a goal-oriented person and now would like to teach nursing. She is certain that Thurgood will enable her to move more easily through the experience of going back to college. Betty has a persistent and delightful sense of humor. She is positive, outgoing and very open. She feels Thurgood is the calmest dog she’s ever known and is her buddy already. “He shares his bone with me. I can’t imagine him not being at the end of my arm!” To those on the home front, she warns: “You’d better move over, we’re coming through!” When asked about her assessment of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she loudly proclaimed: “It’s not an institution; it’s people!”

Mary Malone and Luxton

Fairfield Glade, Tennessee is the home of Mary Malone, who at age 47 has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her second dog, Luxton, a yellow Lab. Mary lost her sight as a result of diabetes. In 1990 her disability was compounded by a serious fall down a flight of circular stairs. After many futile attempts to save her leg during the following six-year period, it became necessary to amputate it. Thus, Mary came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a student and acquired her first dog, now retired after seven years of faithful service. Mary does not enjoy being housebound. She gets cabin fever, so it’s not surprising that she leads a very active life. Mary does a lot of computer research and engages in daily physical work-outs, often taking brisk walks of several miles a day out of doors. She particularly appreciates Luxton’s pace, powerhouse pull and companionship as she walks locally and she knows he will serve her well in nearby Knoxville as well. She distinctly remembers the help that Guiding Eyes for the Blind rendered with her former dog when she moved from Atlanta to the country roads of Fairfield Glade. They sent an instructor to help her dog discern the difference between a sidewalk and a country road that has no marked boundaries for pedestrian traffic. Mary is much more than a survivor: she is an energetic, lively, productive woman who enjoys life. “Thank you, Guiding Eyes for the Blind!”

Thomas Massa and River

Tom Massa, a hale and hearty gentleman from May’s Landing, New Jersey, has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his third dog, River. He has always had dogs in his home, so his wife suggested that he apply for a guide dog. He did so, and took the advice of Eileen Brown, a former Guiding Eyes for the Blind student, and never checked another school. As a child, he was diagnosed as having pseudo-exenthomer elasticum which affects the connective tissues in double-jointed people. Tom, after high school, followed the call of Uncle Sam and enjoyed an impressive military service career with the Navy, Marines and Army. At the age of 42, employed as a bus driver, he was in an accident, broad-sided by another vehicle, which resulted in two herniated discs in his neck and two in the lower back and then, loss of vision. Its probable cause was the dormant condition, identified in his childhood. Tom is a man who loves people and gets along with anyone. He loves to participate in Civil War re-enactments as a Confederate in uniform. He knows that River, who seems to be a carbon copy of his master, is already his close buddy. Tom knows that River’s “flow” will take him where he needs to go. Tom and his wife enjoy their life together: she works and he stays at home and enjoys the out-of-doors. Then they go out to dinner together. “I would never go to another school. The quality of service and life: the training, food, cleaning, camaraderie, atmosphere, it is all superb.”

Mary Piccerello and Vargo

Mary Piccerello has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Murphysboro, Illinois for Vargo, her third dog from the School. She was advised by her friend, Pat Hill, to come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first guide dog. Mary was born blind with retinopathy of prematurity but is able to discern light and dark. Mary knows Braille well and is computer savvy. She is presently working on her Master’s degree that will enable her to do social work with the elderly and /or disabled. Mary always greets the world with a smile and a positive attitude. A quiet but social person, she likes to have people around her, but enjoys being by herself occasionally. In those special times, Mary enjoys riding horseback, walking out of doors and playing games on her computer. She also says she is a pretty adept cook of Italian dishes. Vargo, like his new mistress, is quiet, a good worker, calm and obedient and loves his time alone with Mary playing with his bone. Mary anticipates a move as she goes to grad school and knows that especially in a new place, Vargo will be priceless in helping her to get around. In speaking of her experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Mary notes that some of the methods and commands have changed for the better over the years, and although the re-learning process can be somewhat difficult, it is profitable, for sure. “The trainers are wonderful!”