<!--:es-->Guide Dogs of the Desert to Graduate First All Veteran Class; Paula Abdul to be Special Guest<!--:-->

Guide Dogs of the Desert to Graduate First All Veteran Class; Paula Abdul to be Special Guest

When the upcoming graduation happens at Guide Dogs of the Desert on April 5, 2009, it will be especially meaningful for the trainers working with the veterans, who are themselves, veterans of the Vietnam War, and understand firsthand the experiences these graduates have endured. 

The entire staff is very proud to be working with a class that represents vets from every era, including two graduates of a new program at Guide Dogs of the Desert entitled

“See the Possibilities”, designed to expand their current outreach programs to veterans and proactively seek out veterans returning from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to assist them with Orientation, Mobility and Life Skills training and ultimately pair them with a guide dog.

Those in the audience to see them graduate will include Dick Van Patten, whose company, Natural Balance, has enlisted Paula Abdul to help them publicize and commemorate Guide Dog Month in May. 

“This will be one of our most memorable graduations ever,” explained Roccie Hill, Executive Director of Guide Dogs of the Desert.  “We are so proud to be able to serve the men and women who have so bravely served our country, and to be joined by luminaries such as Dick Van Patten and Paula Abdul who also want to honor them.”

Participants in the program who are due to graduate April 5th include:

Army SGT Douglas Cereghin served in both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom and is still active and serving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Douglas is a combat medic and combat engineer.  He will be getting Zihn, a male Golden Retriever Labrador cross. 

Army MSG Dexter Durrante served in both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan and is a Combat Engineer currently serving at Fort Bragg.  Dexter will be getting Shepard (Shep) a black and tan Labrador Retriever and resides in Fayetteville, North Carolina with his wife and five children. 

SPC David Fisher, is retired from the Army and served in the Vietnam War.  David was attached to Charlie Company 709 Maintenance Division and will be getting Eugene, a male golden retriever.  He resides in Kamiah, Idaho with his partner, Lorri Johns-Hopper. 

Graduates receiving a Guide Dog include a veteran of three wars – MSGT Ruth Schumaker, RET, who served during WWII, Korea and Vietnam in the Marines.  Ruth worked in finance and did recruitment and will be getting Pearl, a female Labrador / Golden Retriever cross.  Pearl was named for the crew of the USS Pearl Harbor, who have volunteered at Guide Dogs of the Desert.  Ruth is from Tucson, Arizona.

Also retired from the Army after having served during the Vietnam War is SGT Timothy Richardson, who was with a construction battalion assigned to the Corp of Engineers.  Timothy will be getting Waldo, a male Labrador /Poodle cross.  Timothy resides in Statham, Georgia with his partner, Judith Graham.

PFC Dennis Olp, RET served in the Persian Gulf War in the Army.  He is a sighted paraplegic.  Dennis was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Air Defense Artillery.  Dennis will be getting Cleveland, who will be his wheelchair service dog and a part of the Guide Dogs of the Desert Heroes Helping Heroes therapy program visiting VA hospitals.  Cleveland was named in honor of the crew of the USS Cleveland, who have volunteered their time at Guide Dogs of the Desert.  Dennis resides in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, Diana.

CPL William English, RET, who served in the Vietnam War and drove an anti-tank vehicle for the 3rd Marine Division.  He will be learning Orientation and Mobility and Life Skills Training for the blind from a state-certified O&M specialist, which is a prerequisite to getting a guide dog.  He currently resides in Hesperia, CA.

 The graduation is scheduled for 2pm at the Guide Dogs of the Desert Campus at 60740 Dillon Road in Whitewater and participants are encouraged to arrive early for a tour and the dedication of a new flag and flagpole at 1:30pm.

There is no cost to veterans (or any client) for the Life Skills training, or for guide dog training.  All services are funded through donations.

Those interested in learning more about the many programs of Guide Dogs of the Desert can access the website at www.gddca.org or call 760/329-6257.