By Carol Dash
I have found that whenever you open your heart to opportunities at Leader Dogs for the Blind, good things happen. That’s exactly what happened to me when I became a volunteer client guide two years ago. As client guides, we meet each new group of clients the evening they arrive at Leader Dog to familiarize them with their surroundings. Some are coming for their first dog and seem nervous. Others are back for their fourth or fifth dog and are confident as we travel around the Polk Residence. Even if some are a little nervous, everyone is very excited about the experiences that are about to unfold when they meet their dog on Issue Day.
Helping the new clients find their way around the Polk Residence, where they will be living for 25 days during training, is so important. We show them how to locate the dining room, laundry room and navigate the halls. We assist them in learning to use the washer and dryers, the TVs, clocks and phones in their rooms. This all helps clients settle in on their very first day. Some of the client guides also play Bingo with the clients and serve at Saturday night pizza parties. During these events, we have time to interact in a more relaxed setting, talking and laughing as we sit around the tables.
Our clients often share how excited they are to get home and introduce their new dogs to their families and communities. They want everyone to see the independence they gain through their training at Leader Dog. Going on Sunday shopping trips with clients is another privilege we have as client guides. Many of the clients want to go to Meijer. Volunteer drivers transport us and then we help the clients navigate the aisles and make their purchases. I remember my first shopping trip with a client. Since I rarely shop at Meijer, I entered feeling like a deer in headlights. So much merchandise is overwhelming to me. My client knew exactly what he wanted, so he verbally directed me to the department! He was far more experienced at finding his way around that huge store than I was.
Afterward, we had time to sit in the coffee shop sharing some of our life experiences as we waited for the Leader Dog van to pick us up. The unexpected thing about that day was he soothed my nerves about shopping at Meijer from then on!
Leader Dog clients are amazing people. They come to Leader Dogs for the Blind from all over the United States, Canada and beyond to be matched with a guide dog and to gain their independence. Their enthusiasm, ability to trust and courageous spirits are incredible. As I serve them, my heart is blessed in so many ways. I am very proud to be a volunteer at Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Photo: From left to right, Carol Dash, Manager of Volunteer Engagement Doreen Murphy, volunteer Jan Long and volunteer Abby Miller.