Photo (left to right): Sharon Cook, American Legion Auxiliary Department of NH President; Bonnie Knapp, American Legion Auxiliary National Executive Committeewoman; Cindy Gonnerman, New Hampshire Veterans Home Volunteer; Rita Navarreté, 2009-2010 National President of the American Legion Auxiliary; Barry E. Conway, New Hampshire Veterans Home Commandant; Lisa Punderson, New Hampshire Veterans Home Volunteer Coordinator. Pinto, Cindy’s Guide Dog, is in the foreground.
On Friday, April 30, 2010, Cindy Gonnerman, a Tilton, NH resident and a volunteer at the New Hampshire Veterans Home (NHVH) for eleven years, was honored for her service by Rita Navarreté, 2009-2010 National President of the American Legion Auxiliary. Cindy was presented with a framed certificate and a special American Legion Auxiliary 90th Anniversary “Service Not Self” pin.
Cindy lost her sight in 1996 at the age of 29 as a result of diabetes, but blindness has not stopped her from achieving her goals. “If someone says I can’t do something, I will find a way,” she said. Cindy proved that when she decided to travel alone on busses, across the country, to GDB's Oregon campus to be matched with her first Guide Dog, Daniel.
Cindy began volunteering in 1999 twice a week at the New Hampshire Veterans Home. When Lisa Punderson, NHVH Volunteer Coordinator, first spoke with Cindy on the phone about volunteering, she said, “Cindy wasn’t sure if I had the need for a blind volunteer, and I said all we can do is just give it a try. When I finally had a chance to meet her and Daniel, and give them a tour of our facility, I realized the everyday challenges of being blind and how helpful it was to have a Guide Dog. I actually learned a lot from Cindy about guide dogs and the disability of being blind. She is such an interesting person and she has so much to give. I knew that if I found her so interesting, the residents would too—and they have." Cindy attends a variety of activities with NHVH residents like outings, church services, book club discussions, and monthly volunteer service committee meetings.
“I love the history there," Cindy said, "meeting the residents, hearing their stories, and interacting with them. Most of all I am honored that they let me and my Guide Dogs come into their home.”
For eight years, Cindy and Daniel visited the Veterans Home, and in 2006 he retired to live with a loving couple on the coast of Maine. The Veterans Home hosted a retirement party for him, and soon welcomed Pinto, Cindy’s new Guide Dog.
Cindy and Pinto often sit at “the Four Corners,” a crossroads of resident hallways that lead to the dining room and the home’s “Main Street.” Cindy takes off Pinto’s harness, signaling that he’s off duty. Recreation Therapist Maureen Campbell says that the residents look forward to seeing Cindy and Pinto. “They are so approachable and welcoming,” Maureen said. “Many of our residents had pets before they came to the Veterans Home, so they love to be able to stop and pat Pinto. You can see them relax and smile—it makes their day.”
Lisa Punderson adds, “Cindy Gonnerman is a wonderful volunteer and an inspiration to all of us. She’s a part of the Veterans Home family and she makes a real difference in our residents’ quality of life.”