Friday, September 25, 2015

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Jaclyn Bigley Essay

Except for the puppy part of Guide Dogs for the Blind, the experience of being part of this organization has been far more than I expected. I originally joined the program because I love animals, and I thought it would be a great way to help people. Many of my friends at the time I joined Guide Dogs for the Blind were joining National Charity League (NCL) because in our neck of the woods that was the thing to do. I went a different route because NCL was very high profile and required a significant financial commitment. I was shy, and I wanted something different, something that fit me as a person.

The program’s impact on me began immediately. The story of how Guide Dogs for the Blind started to change my life and those around me picks up when I picked up my first puppy to raise and experienced for the first time the monumental task and responsibility of caring for a guide dog day-in and day-out. Of course it is all second nature now even though there is more to learn, but in the beginning, I needed to understand my role and all the rules. And as importantly, I had to assert myself with my brothers when they would play or work with the dog in a way that was inconsistent with how I was taught. Dad even got off track on occasion, and I needed to remind him. We, quickly, as a family realized that we are in this together. It was not like playing a sport, or the piano, or having your own hobby. This was a life style choice. I knew right there and then that in order to be a successful puppy raiser, I needed everyone in the family to understand how important it was to do this together the right way.  And I needed to be confident enough to remind people of that.

Jenna was my first puppy and she successfully graduated from the program. She was given to a wonderful person named Sue Mangis who is a teacher. We have been friends ever since I met her at the graduation ceremony in San Rafael. Of the people my experience with Guide Dogs for the Blind has affected the most, I think Ms. Mangis would be around the top of the list. We keep in contact through email and she never fails to mention how amazed she is of the work I have done with Jenna and how well Guide Dogs for the Blind paired them together. Every time I think about them, I am so touched by her and Jenna. I realize that much of what Ms. Mangis is saying is because of the great job that the trainers and staff do in San Rafael, but it is still nice to hear anyway. Also, hearing her stories and her day-to-day activities made easier by Jenna and their relationship has truly shown me how big of an impact this organization makes. Although it is painful giving up a dog, Sue Mangis is one of those people who keeps me doing what I do for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I believe the work Jenna does and the relationship I have with Ms. Mangis has changed us all for the better.

My school and friends have also been impacted by my work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Not a week goes by that somebody does not ask me about one of the dogs. In fact, if too much time passes for them without seeing the dog, they get mad at me for not bringing her to school. When the dog is not with me, people really want to know what is going on. Somehow they feel connect to the program through me and what “we” are doing because the students and staff at my high school think they are helping too. I am humbled by this. Most teachers and students openly welcome a guide dog into the classroom. Among other things, it has created a discussion and awareness of the blind. I am thankful that this has had such an affect in my school and with my friends.

Beyond being a puppy raiser, my experience as an intern in San Rafael was a milestone for me.  Stepping into an administrative role and living far from my home during part of the summer was an experience that I will never forget. People in a work setting depended on me and I depended on them.  After work, I needed to be self-sufficient and resourceful. I had freedom, but also responsibility, and it felt good to be part of something like that even for a short time to get a feel for the professional world.

I think I have found a piece of myself through Guide Dogs for the Blind that I was not sure existed.  People tell me “I have come out of my shell.” They credit Guide Dogs for the Blind for this and so do I. I feel more confident, more conscientious, and more in tune with what is going on with people around me because of my work in the program. I have had a chance to lead, to follow, to be on a team, to speak publicly, fundraise, put on parties and participate in many other activities that have helped me view the world from different angles and learn from each. I am grateful for this. From my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind I have learned about how beautiful it is to be unique. I have learned that it is okay to step out of my comfort zone and try something I might not think I can do or that my peers are not doing. I have learned that blindness or any handicap for that matter is a point of view. I learned it is not about what you cannot do, but what you can do that counts. I learned how vital it is to give in order to receive. I have learned, in spite of what your challenges are, you need to continue to move forward. I learned the value of hard work and making a commitment and sticking with it. I learned through the dogs about being disciplined and consistent. So for all the emotion, work, and the things I did to give, I received much, much more.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has and I hope it will continue to play a role in my life. It has helped to shape who I am today.  I want to pursue a career in business, but work in an organization that has a social purpose and some emphasis on helping humanity in some way. And like Guide Dogs for the Blind, it would be wonderful if animals were involved. Although I do not know what that specific career is yet, I feel that my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me this vision of what I would like to do. I enjoy helping people and working with animals. In fact, that is why I chose to get involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind as a puppy raiser in the first place. I simply did not know where the journey would ultimately take me, and in the end I believe it has taken me where I need to be. It has helped me to mature in so many different areas.  It has allowed me to give something back that is needed.  And it has strengthened my interest in working in organizations who are more like this one.

Jaclyn smiles holding a young black Lab puppy in front of the Puppy Truck.

Jaclyn Bigley is from Fullerton, California and has been raising guide dog puppies for eight years. She is currently raising her sixth puppy, Anna. Jaclyn first got involved with GDB because she wanted to be able to help others with what she loves most, dogs. GDB has impacted her life in way she could have never imagined and she is very grateful for the opportunities it has brought her. In addition to puppy raising, Jaclyn swims, is the co-chairman of the Knights of Columbus Christmas Drive at her church, is involved in student government. Jaclyn will be attending the University of San Diego.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund Scholarship: Winner for Outstanding Essay

The Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund was created to support the GDB Puppy Raiser Youth Scholarship program for 2015 and in the future. After reading about the 2014 scholarship winners, puppy raiser Nancy Boyer saw each of them as truly amazing, strong, giving individuals who deserved a nice “thank you" for all their efforts to make a difference for others. As a result, the GDB memorial fund in the name of Nancy Bloyer was created. Nancy will be remembered as one of the givers – especially the love and guidance for the GDB pups entrusted in her care: Flair, January, Ella and Madge. Thank you very much to the Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund donors for their generous contributions (these funds will also be available next year).

Nancy and Don Bloyer with yellow Lab guide dog puppy January in front of the Puppy Truck
Nancy and Don Bloyer with guide dog puppy January

Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund Scholarship – Winner for Outstanding Essay: Laura Marchi

How has your experience in raising a GDB puppy specifically impacted someone else in your life or in your community?

I hop out of my car, dressed in a suit, purse over my arm, expertly avoiding an ever-present Oregon mud puddle. My heels click as I walk around to the tailgate, leading out a puppy whose tail is wagging. He has no regard for the wet weather or my nice clothes and hops out - right into the puddle I just avoided. I sigh, looking at the mud spots on my skirt. Luckily, I’m prepared for puppy antics. I pull a wet wipe out of my bag and clean off my suit and the rambunctious puppy’s paws before heading into the courthouse, laughing to myself.

Volunteer work has been a source of learning and satisfaction for me for many years. My most fulfilling volunteer job has been as a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind. One of my favorite things about puppy raising is that I can participate in training and socializing my puppy while going about my normal life. It makes for a very flexible schedule, at least once the puppy is reliably house trained! I also devote my time to a local program called Roseburg Area Youth Services (R.A.Y.S.) Youth Court. Through this program, I serve as an attorney for high school and middle school students who have committed first offense misdemeanors, such as possession of alcohol or marijuana, petty theft, or harassment. I have been working for both organizations for four years.

Part of my job as an attorney for Youth Court is to serve as a mentor to troubled teens, but it can be really hard to connect with the teens that are assigned to jury duty as a sanction for their offense. Without meaning to, I often found myself taking the easy route and socializing with the other volunteers. It felt like my conversations with the sanctioned teens tended to end before they had begun. I wanted to reach out, but it was always hard to connect. Then, one day I came in to volunteer with the puppy I was raising for Guide Dogs, a fluffy golden retriever who was bright eyed, friendly, and had a tail that could clear a coffee table in under a second. As I began to wade my way through the cafeteria, kids perked up, staring and whispering. Some of these were kids that I had never seen look up from their phones or take off their headphones. These were the teens who usually stared listlessly at walls, annoyed or ashamed that they were here serving out their community service sanctions. They normally refused or avoided talking to me, but now they were looking at me and my dog. They began to tentatively ask questions and pet my puppy. I ended up sitting next to a girl that I had always wanted to speak to. After hearing her case for the first time and meeting her less than supportive parents, I wanted to help in some way if she would only let me talk heart to heart with her. She absolutely adored the golden puppy, and it was only a few weeks later that she began to open up to me and others, take advice from us, and really let her guard down. She’s now a strong attorney in the program, and has plans to graduate high school and enter college. It was the puppy that opened the pathway of communication, but it allowed me to make the decision to step up and make a dedicated effort to speak with her.

My leader, Terri Jo, always says that our puppies have a purpose. Even when they do not make it to be a working Guide, they will leave their mark in this world. Some dogs are meant to be Guides, to serve as a light to their handlers. But others serve as a beacon of hope to those in our communities that least expect it. This golden pup helped this girl long before he would ever be old enough to become a Guide, and to me, that is the true power of what we do with these puppies.

When you are in public with an irresistible puppy wearing a green Guide Dogs for the Blind training vest, everyone wants to talk to you. I have chosen a career in engineering, but being a public ambassador for Guide Dogs for the Blind has really helped me become a strong communicator and allowed me to look at my long term goals critically. I’m going to Oregon State University in the fall and I plan to continue as an active volunteer in the Guide Dogs program. I want to improve people’s lives and shape the world through engineering. Guide Dogs for the Blind and R.A.Y.S. Youth Court have opened my mind to the needs of different groups of people. Using both my passion for mathematics that I have demonstrated through school and my passion for helping others that I have developed through these volunteering opportunities, I have the tools to make change happen and apply my skills to my career goals.

Laura Marchi poses with Golden Retriever Kristoff near purple flower beds.
Laura Marchi poses with Kristoff