Eight visually-impaired individuals and their puppies advanced through the Guide Dogs of America (GDA) training program and are on their way towards individual freedom (left). IAM General Secretary-Treasurer Dora Cervantes addresses attendees at the 411th GDA graduation ceremony in Sylmar, CA (right).

Eight visually-impaired individuals and their puppies advanced through the Guide Dogs of America (GDA) training program and are on their way towards individual freedom.

The recipients and their guide dogs were honored as part of GDA’s 411th graduating class.

“This was a big weekend at Guide Dogs of America,” said GDA President Russ Gittlen.  “I’m very proud of all the hard work these eight graduates and their new guide dog partners put in over the last few weeks training together on our campus. I wish each team well in their new adventures together.”

“It’s heartfelt knowing the recipients will be paired with a guide dog that will serve and guide them through their lives,” said IAM General Secretary-Treasurer Dora Cervantes. “I cried hearing stories from both the trainer who was giving up the dog and the recipient getting their life back. This is what motivates me to raise money and volunteer to provide a guide dog to make someone’s life better. The happiness and opportunities these dogs provide cannot be described in words, but felt in our hearts when you witness a guide dog and recipient become a team.”

Newly-elected GDA Board of Directors member and IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Steve Galloway (right) and IAM Midwest Territory Chief of Staff Luther Williams (left) pictured with Chicago IAM District 8-sponsored guide dog, Letty, and puppy raiser Nancy Hawthorne.

“Congratulations to the members of Guide Dog of America’s 411th graduating class,” said IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Steve Galloway, also in attendance – his first visit since being elected to the Guide Dogs of America Board of Directors in January. “It was an honor to once-again witness another round of individuals officially receive their guide dogs and to hear first-hand the stories of just how each dog has already changed their new owners’ lives. The Midwest Territory believes wholeheartedly in GDA’s mission of empowerment and independence for the blind and visually-impaired. It is an honor to give each year to an organization that gives so much in return.”

The graduation was followed by GDA’s 15th Annual Ride for Guides, where riders, including GST Cervantes, grabbed their helmets and leather jackets and took off from the GDA campus in Sylmar, CA through the mountains of Southern California and back. Riders enjoyed a poker run with stops like gorgeous wineries along the way.

“Guide Dogs of America would not be able to create these life-changing partnerships, or put on such great fundraising events like our Ride for Guides, without the hard work of our dedicated staff, volunteers and donors,” said Gittlen, “so I’d like to thank all of you for everything you do to support this organization.”

Guide Dogs of America provides blind and visually-impaired men and women with increased independence, confidence and mobility through an expertly-trained guide dog. Their services are provided free of charge to residents in the U.S. and Canada.

For more information, visit their website at www.GuideDogsofAmerica.org.

See photos from the GDA graduation and bike run.

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