A Day in the Life of a Guiding Eyes Graduate
By Ann Chiappetta
I’ve often written about paying it forward. Some folks call it giving back; others just keep it simple and say they volunteer. Whatever it is, when it happens we feel great about ourselves when we do it. Most of my volunteering is done on behalf of blindness-related organizations. I am a blind person who feels it’s spiritually satisfying to help other blind people. For example, I was asked by the staff of Guiding Eyes for the Blind to come and greet other volunteers and I jumped at the chance. Guiding Eyes gave me back my independence by teaming me up with a guide dog and I do whatever I can to pay it forward.
At 9:45 a.m. Verona and I met Linda, the corporate giving coordinator and rode to the White Plains training house, aka, the lounge. Students use this house six days a week for four weeks while training in downtown White Plains, New York. The lounge is outfitted with an outside relieving area big enough to accommodate two dozen dogs in training and a mud room for providing a safe place to allow them to drink. Additionally, for the two footed variety, there are two seating areas, bathrooms, an instructors’ office, and a technology room so students can write email and pass the time between training walks. Most importantly, the dining room is equipped with booths so students and dogs both get familiar with how this is done. New students who have never worked a guide dog are especially open to being exposed to these things because it helps them prepare for the time when they go out alone as a team.
Lunch time at the lounge is met with a collective sigh of relief: hot food, drinks, and a time to relax until the afternoon training walks begin. Volunteers come in and go shopping for students as well.
The lounge gets more than its share of use and abuse. Imagine a dog coming in after walking along route in rain or snow, shaking off and sending it everywhere. Get the picture?
Cut to the scene where I am standing with Guiding Eyes staff and Goldman Sacks volunteers in the summer sunshine. They are at the lounge to paint the interior walls and wash down the inside windows. What a nice bunch of people. Before working, they need to meet two little 7 week old yellow fluff balls who might make it to being future guide dogs. The little female, Jamie tries to nurse from Verona but she just ignores the pup. The little male, Jerome, is dignified and takes it all in with quiet curiosity.
I tell my story; express how much Verona has made it possible to soar, to have no limits, to keep me safe. I get choked up just talking about it.
After a few moments, we all are laughing, and they get to work.
I love this part, where we share a common goal, a passion for helping one another and for helping Guiding Eyes. This is the best part of what it means to be here, to share in the human canine partnership and educate others about what it means to live and work with a dog guide.