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September 2007 Graduating Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated on September 15.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.

Dan Austin and McGee

A Multi-talented Returnee

Dan Austin, 53, from Massachusetts, was born with glaucoma. He had “usable sight” until the age of 23. His initial training class at Guiding Eyes for the Blind was in 1979, at the recommendation of his Braille teacher at the Genessee Federation for the Blind in Flint, Michigan. Dan has an A.A. in Business Merchandising, and has worked in a variety of fields, including appliance repair, travel and tourism, phone solicitation, computer and electronics. He has been married for ten years, with a stepson, and is proud of recently becoming a “grand daddy.” He is also the proud owner of a log house. Dan’s new Guiding Eyes dog McGee, a big yellow Lab, is laid-back but attentive to detail. “He is a dog with a sense of humor, and keeps me on my toes – a great quality – and a great match for me. I love it here at Guiding Eyes for the Blind: the improved quality of facilities, the trainers’ handling of dogs and students, plus the vast variety of routes – all are really awesome. Guiding Eyes is the very best there is.”

Donald Barnes and Linden

A Keen Memory Means Success for a New Student

Donald Barnes, 39, came all the way from Nevada to meet Linden, his first Guiding Eyes dog. Donald was 15 before his sight became seriously impaired by retinitus pigmentosa, but he later earned a B.S. degree in Restaurant, Hotel, Institutional and Tourism Management from Purdue University. Donald works at casinos and speaks to people from all over, helping them to plan and confirm their reservations at various establishments. Donald loves to travel and read books and especially enjoys connecting with his family for social activity. He reports that his dog Linden is just like him: easy going, feisty and a wonderful leader. Donald commented that since a keen memory plays a crucial role in his present employment, he has no problem in learning and retaining the necessary commands and procedures as a first timer at Guiding Eyes. Donald just can’t wait to get back home with Linden; he can hardly imagine the extent of his new freedom and independence. “I would certainly recommend Guiding Eyes for the Blind – where every single one of my needs have been met in abundance.”

Glenda Born and Karina

A Life of Achievements, with More to Come

Congenital cataracts and glaucoma claimed much of Glenda Born’s sight at birth. She underwent seven surgeries before she was 18 months old left her with “low vision.” (She has also had several more surgeries since that time.) Glenda, 57, explained that it’s like viewing her world through a layer of cellophane. She applied to Guiding Eyes for the Blind at the recommendation of Jonathan Schrauer, a former Guiding Eyes representative, and returned to us for her second dog, Karina. Glenda earned her Masters in Education/Guidance and Counseling and is employed with the Division for Blind Services in Assistive Technology. Her life is one of achievement: as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and teacher, a CEO of a facility for mentally-challenged women, and assistive technological specialist. In her leisure time, Glenda enjoys reading, working on her computer and visiting friends; she is also active in her church. She appreciates her new dog’s focused, flirtatious, happy, and calm personality. She feels with Karina at her side, her life will be filled with spontaneity. Glenda is appreciative of Guiding Eyes’ flexibility to respond to the needs of each individual student.

David Caldwell and Ryker

Foster Parent Returns for Second Dog

David Caldwell, 68 and from Pennsylvania, returns to Guiding Eyes for his second dog, Ryker. David admits (with a slight grin) that until he was 28 years old, he drove trailer trucks, although he is legally blind as a result of retinitus pigmentosa. He has a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, and initially was a teacher, but gave up this career to return home to take care of his aging parents. Married for almost 25 years, he and his wife have served as foster parents for more than two dozen children with problems and special needs. David loves woodworking (cabinets and other furniture) which he does in his garage workshop. David reports that he and Ryker have bonded and are even beginning to look alike; Ryker is affectionate, a good worker and has a strong pull and energetic stride. David looks forward to taking fast walks for his health with Ryker when he returns home.

Donna Elliott and Tessi

Balancing Higher Education and Charity Work

Donna Elliott, born with retinopathy of prematurity, lived most of her childhood and young adult life feeling “different and isolated” because of her impaired vision. She had no idea that the independence she so earnestly sought was just a phone call away. She was already 48 years old when she came to Guiding Eyes for her first dog, and now returns for her second dog, Tessi. Donna is continuing her education, working towards her B.S.W. in Social Work at Rhode Island College. She loves spending time with her family, enjoys reading, listening to music and cooking. Donna spends much of her time helping others: she and her husband both volunteer at the Ronald MacDonald House as well as SPRED, a church-sponsored organization that provides help for children with developmental challenges. Donna describes Tessi as being dainty, inquisitive, playful and affectionate with a strong sense of purpose. “I know she will enable me to maintain my independence and will be especially effective in my work with school children. I am enjoying every moment of it here. I only wish I had come a lot sooner”

Huguette Lebel and Jackie

Retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and Back for Her Second Dog

Huguette Lebel, from Calgary, Canada, experienced gradual sight loss from retinitus pigmentosa from birth until when she was 40, and recognized her need for dependable assistance in navigating. A representative from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, who has had dogs from Guiding Eyes herself, recommended the school to Huguette, emphasizing the school’s “effective training program conducted in a warm family atmosphere.” That sounded great to her, and so Huguette has returns for her second dog, Jackie. Huguette served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and later was employed in the field of network marketing. Now, at age 51, she is a homemaker who loves to read and has a talent for writing short stories, one of which was published in 2005 in a church publication. She and her husband of 30 years enjoy hiking, watching sports and attending movies together. Huguette loves people and adventure. “Jackie is just like me; he is alert, affectionate and kind and definitely a “licker.” He will join the couple’s cat and retired guide dog at home. Huguette knows that Jackie will give her more freedom and motivate her to get out more on her own.

Roderick Roberts and Wales

This Student was Afraid of Dogs

When Roderick Roberts was nine months old he was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma. Now, at age 35, he returns from his home in Texas to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his second dog, Wales. Rod came to the school initially upon the advice of a friend and former student. He admitted putting off obtaining a guide dog because he had a genuine fear of dogs. Rod has a successful marketing business but also enjoys his extracurricular life: he likes to read, is a fan of jazz, sings karaoke, attends coffee houses and has a girlfriend who is also a Guiding Eyes alum. He says that Wales is similar to him; cautious, but friendly, focused at work and play. Rod knows that Wales will enable him to increase his own walking speed, travel more efficiently, and feels strongly that having guide dog actually changes how people on the street view you – with respect. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is all and more than people say it is. There is no word that can adequately describe the quality of this school.”

Ralph Sole and Dudley

A Successful Real Estate Career with Guiding Eyes Dog at His Side

Ralph Sole lost his sight in 1980 as a result of a serious auto accident and was not expected to live. Four months later, he emerged from the hospital, without his sight. Within one year of the near-fatal accident, Ralph applied to Guiding Eyes upon the strong recommendation of Pat Palmer, a former Guiding Eyes student. Now, at 67, Ralph has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fourth dog, Dudley. Prior to his accident Ralph was involved in the steel mill business, landscaping, and auto auctions. After the accident he ventured into real estate, conducting open houses with his guide dog at his side. Ralph is convinced that his furry companion is responsible for his success. Today he says he leads a stress-free life of gardening and is proud of his Heirloom tomatoes. Ralph has been a vegetarian since 1998 and enjoys cooking vegetable-based meals. He and Dudley have bonded quickly; and Ralph added that his new playful, obedient and affectionate guide dog seldom needs correction. “I continue to be amazed at the quality and caliber of the trainers here. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is the very best.” With the help of Ralph’s hometown newspaper, his city’s residents have raised $40,000 for Guiding Eyes.

Sharon Zak and Mackie

A Highly Educated City Dweller

Sharon Zak, 57, lives by herself in a big city. She has been blind since birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity and has two prosthetic eyes. Sharon has had five guide dogs, the last three from Guiding Eyes. Unhappy with her previous experience with another school, she came to Guiding Eyes through the advice of a colleague who is a former student. Sharon attended the Ohio State School for the Blind (where she learned Braille) followed by schools in Connecticut and New York. She also studied psychology and creative writing at NYU. For recreation she enjoys reading, watching TV, window shopping, and walking the city’s streets with her guide dog. She especially appreciates her new dog Mackie’s ability to help her to maneuver around construction areas and obstacles. She says that although Mackie has a mind of his own, he’s affectionate, obedient and trustworthy. “I am so proud to have a guide dog from Guiding Eyes. . . the trainers are superb, and now I can even travel to the market by myself.’’