Monday, April 11, 2011

An Open Letter to the Thousands of GDB Volunteers

Morgan Watkins with his retired Guide Dog Fantom and his current Guide Dog Will, both Golden Retrievers Too often, we don’t even realize just how powerful the touch of a volunteer can be. Sixteen years ago, I made the phone call that changed my life.

I had grown tired of finding trash cans with my white cane, coffee tables with my shins, and tree branches with my face. I was weary of navigating convention centers and trying to make new business connections with people I could not spot in a crowd. A cane is such a poor conversation starter.

Although my growing blindness never bothered me, I did aspire to the freedom I used to enjoy when I could race between gates in an airport or zip quietly down hallways at work. Sixteen years ago, I called Guide Dogs for the Blind. However, if it had not been for one volunteer, I might have never made that call. As my vision continued to fail over the years, I occasionally thought of how useful a guide dog might be. I had seen blind men and women, with their guide dogs, moving quickly through buildings and on sidewalks. As far as I knew, I would have to lose the remainder of my vision, to be totally blind, before I could partner with a guide dog. I didn’t know just how little I knew.

Before that fateful phone call, while on a business trip in Northern California, a good friend who worked in Silicon Valley asked me if I’d like to meet her family. I had heard wonderful things about her parents, how after their own children had grown, they had adopted many young children, all with significant disabilities. Her parents wanted to share their good life with some special kids. I went with her to her parents home and got to meet some truly extraordinary people. While there, I also met the mother’s sister. My friend’s aunt showed up with a puppy and I was intrigued by her story as well.

Her aunt was raising a puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I learned about how volunteers made these puppies very special, giving them the early love, respect, and social skills to enable their future training at this West Coast school. I had never heard of Guide Dogs for the Blind, but I fell in love with the program as I listened to this volunteer share her story, her puppy’s story, and the story of GDB. That very special puppy raiser changed my life. Had we never met, I might have waited another decade to get a Guide Dog. Had we not talked, I might not have come to our school. Because of one puppy raiser, I took a chance, came to San Rafael, and discovered that I could see again through the eyes of my first guide, Fantom.

To all of you, during National Volunteer Week, I want to thank you for your dedication to a mission that makes a huge difference in the lives of so many blind men and women. Because of your volunteer spirit, we have phenomenal foster care providers, dedicated dog walkers, and wonderful puppy testers and socializers.

Because you give of yourselves, we benefit from your efforts at the gift shops, the telephone console, on our Board, and in the Accounting Office. Because of you, we have great docents giving tours, safe drivers taking our students to churches and synagogues on the weekends, and the best breeder custodians and puppy raisers in the world. Because of all our volunteers, thousands of blind men and women have enjoyed greater freedom and independence.

Thank you for caring. Thank you for supporting this mission. Thank you for your gift of self. And, to a very special Aunt Barbara, thank you for bringing me to GDB.

Warm personal wishes,
Morgan and Will

G. Morgan Watkins
Acting President and CEO Guide Dogs for the Blind

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