Voices of the Leader Dog Community: the LDB Team

For this month’s installment of Voices of the Leader Dog Community, we asked our staff to submit a wish for the coming year. We are starting with a wish that is short and heartfelt.

Kathy Gilchrist, Lions relations specialist

A woman with long blond hair, dark framed glasses and a smile on her face is taking a selfie with a black Labrador retriever next to her. This is Kathy and Laker, a career changed Leader Dog that is well-loved in her home and around the LDB offices.“What I wish for 2021 is that we all hang on tight and remain hopeful for a bright New Year that is just around the corner.”

Zach Jirik, puppy development admin

“Chanukah is the Jewish “festival of lights” and starts in the Hebrew month of Kislev (The Jewish calendar follows lunar cycles). It is an eight-day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. During the second century BCE, the Seleucid Greek Empire of Syria had conquered the Holy Land. Jewish worship was forbidden under penalty of death. A small army of Jewish soldiers known as the Maccabim (Maccabees) rebelled against King Antiochus IV and the Syrian Greek army. The Maccabim were victorious, despite their adversary’s superior numbers, weapons, and armor. When the A young man with very short dark hair wearing a blue t-shirt with a Menorah on the front and the words “It’s lit.” A collection of Chanukah-related items including a silver Menorah, silver coins with the Star of David on one side, two blue and white dreidels, a black and white dreidel, a bottle of olive oil and a black and white tubular container of matches.Maccabim returned to rededicate the desecrated Holy Temple, they found only one day’s worth of pure oil for the daily Menorah lighting. That small amount of oil burned for eight days. Chanukah celebrates the moral victory in a triumphant struggle over religious freedom. On Chanukah, Jewish families light the Chanukiah (eight-branched lamp used for Chanukah) for eight nights, adding a light each night until all are lit. Special prayers are said, and it is customary to eat oily foods including oil-drenched potato latkes or deep-fried jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot). Each year on Chanukah, my family sing songs and play joyous music.

The message of Chanukah is universal. It’s about standing up for what you believe in, resilience, and finding light in the darkness. The pandemic has caused burden and hardship around the world. My hope for 2021 is that those who have been touched by darkness will discover their light. Jewish tradition teaches that you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. Now is as good a time as any to reach out to our friends and neighbors. Miracles do exist in the modern age: regaining strength after a battle with illness, a COVID vaccine, and the regained independence from the partnerships between guide dogs and their handlers. My hope for 2021 is that we may all participate in the victory against COVID-19 and continue to carry out our mission. Light can be found even in the darkest of places.”

Rachel Webber, breeding and puppy care team leader

A woman wearing a green, long-sleeved LDB t-shirts, rust colored slacks and a patterned mask on her face is holding the leash of a yellow Labrador retriever in her left hand. The dog is wearing a red and green patterned holiday bandanna. They are standing in the lobby of the LDB canine center next to a Christmas tree with white garland and white lights.“Someone asked me if dogs would mind if we all were wearing masks and what kind of training they needed to get used to things changing around them. Not once this year has any dog or puppy stopped to question why the world has changed, they’ve still given us unconditional love every day. Especially those days when we needed their comfort the most.

My wish for the new year is that our loving companions continue to provide their emotional support and motivation to give love to all we may meet.”

Jen Wilkinson, social and digital media coordinator

A woman wearing hiking boots, black leggings, a blue t-shirt and sunglasses is walking in a very arid, mountainous area. There are several sparse trees and many rock formations in the distance. The woman is smiling.“In 2021, I’d love to be able to travel and feel comfortable doing it. 2020 was the first time in several years that I wasn’t able to go on an annual backpacking trip. I typically don’t travel much, but once a year I was able to see a new part of the country and disconnect from everyday life in a way that’s unlike going on a vacation where you stay in a hotel and still have access to a TV, wifi, restaurants, etc. I love Michigan, but there are plenty of other places with amazing natural beauty that I still want to experience. Right now, even if the spread of COVID-19 was much less severe an issue, it wouldn’t feel responsible to me to travel simply for pleasure. Especially when so many people would love to travel a much smaller distance just to see a loved one.

So, here’s to hoping we see the end of our ‘staycations’ in 2021!”

Kate Roberts, Eric Rodman and Erin VanBuskirk – LDB guide dog mobility instructors and Legacy’s puppy raisers

A headshot of a yellow Labrador retriever/golden retriever cross with dark brown eyes and a black nose looking directly toward the camera. On the table in the background is a brown Leader Dog harness with “LeaderDog.org” stamped on the front.“We hope that Legacy, puppy #20,000, finds his purpose in 2021– hopefully as a Leader Dog! He has made the pandemic a much more light-hearted experience with his goofy personality, and we hope that he goes on to provide his goofiness to a Leader Dog client. He is nearing ten months old and we can’t believe he has been with us this long! He loves to carry around his toys, practice obedience, and put on his puppy coat to go out and work.

Go do good in 2021, Legacy!!!”

Melissa Priester, manager of client services

My wish for 2021 is that my elementary-age children can go back to school in person. They have been learning in a remote environment since March, and I am amazed by how quickly they have settled into a routine, even amidst constant schedule changes and technology glitches. My 1st and 2nd graders are mastering using a computer, typing, scanning and uploading documents, navigating Zoom meetings, and formatting Google Docs and Jamboards. Early in the school year when my 2nd grader was typing a book report and asked if she could just copy and paste a name instead of typing it again, my first thought was ‘You know how to do that?’

A woman with dark hair and eyes wearing a black blouse with a black/white cardigan is in the center of the photo and smiling. The background is a basement that is decorated for Christmas. There is a young boy on the left standing at a desk looking at a laptop computer. There is a young girl on the right sitting in a large office chair in front of a desk looking at a laptop computer.My coworkers have also been very entertained during video conference meetings by the antics going on in the background… my kids spinning in their chairs, bouncing around for gym class or singing for music class, teachers on Zoom constantly telling kids to mute themselves or to turn their cameras back on, and curious kids suddenly appearing over my shoulder.

While I’m incredibly proud of their resilience, and extremely grateful for all the hard work being done by their teachers to keep them engaged, remote learning is much more difficult for my young kids. It is challenging for them to concentrate for such a long period of time on the computer during the day. They miss their friends. They miss interacting with their teachers in person. They crave any sort of social interaction outside of our family and they jump at the chance to go ANYWHERE…even if it is just to the ‘boring’ grocery store! I’m hopeful that we will turn a corner in 2021 and kids will be able to safely return to school.”

Dr. David Smith, director of canine health

A woman with short brown hair, plaid shirt, black sweater and a white mask is sitting down on a chair. In her left arm is a small child wrapped in a white blanket. The child’s eyes are closed, and her hair is dark and plentiful. The baby is drinking from a small bottle that is help in the woman’s right hand.“I hope that in 2021 I will be able to see my new granddaughter who was born in Tokyo last week. It might be another 9 to 12 months due to the Covid virus risk, but it will be worth the wait.

I hope that in 2021 I will be able to work with our whole Leader Dog veterinary team at the same time in our clinic. We are currently divided into two teams due to Covid for the safety of our team members and to ensure facilitation of our core duties. When we are together, we are a super-efficient team that excels in the health care of Leader Dog puppies, breeding moms and dads, and the dogs under our care in our Canine Development Center.”

Leslie Hoskins, outreach services and community engagement manager

“Where do I even begin… Some may laugh, but I wish to go to Peppa Pig World again in 2021! My three-year-old has not stopped asking about when we can go to Peppa Pig world again and, quite frankly, I want to go just as bad as him! The idea of letting him run and play and interact with others and not just myself sounds delightful! I wish to go to the park and not worry if another family will show up or what my child just licked…ok, maybe I will still worry about what he just licked, but maybe just a little less terrified 😊

An adult in a pink pig costume is in the middle of a small stage. The pig’s hands are in the air and one foot is kicked off the ground. There are three children around the pig, two girls and one boy, who are looking at the camera and smiling.I wish for a real happy hour, in person at a bar and not via Zoom! I wish to be waited on and cleaned up after, I wish for loud music so that I can’t even hear what my husband or friends are saying, but it doesn’t matter because they are there in person and we can just laugh at each other and dance.

I wish for Leader Dog’s campus to be filled with the giggles of summer experience campers this summer and for the phone calls they make back home to parents to be full of fun tales and new adventures. I wish for long days of tandem bike riding, beep kickball and table wars in the dining room.

But mostly I wish for everyone including myself not to forget how thankful we’ve all felt in 2020 for our health, family, friends and everything in between!”

Astrid Janicke, client services coordinator

Two women are sitting in a restaurant. The woman on the left is younger with blue-tinted dark hair, dark eyes and wearing a black jacket. The woman on the right has long brown hair, brown-rimmed glasses and is wearing a grey turtleneck sweater. They are both looking at the camera and smiling.“What I wish for in 2021… To give my oldest daughter a huge hug when she graduates in May! I haven’t seen her since December 2019. She is the first in our family to graduate in the USA. She will have a double-major, one in Psychology with focus in Neuroscience and another in Criminal Justice with focus in Forensics!! All of this she accomplished while developing a successful stream online with more than 20,000 followers! I really wish to give her a big hug in 2021.”

Laura Fisher, puppy development coordinator

There are five people, and each has an animal with them. From the left is a man with his hands on a white and black poodle cross, then a young boy holding a very fluffy white cat, next a woman holding a white poodle, then an older boy holding a black cat, and last an older boy with his left arm around a yellow Labrador retriever wearing a Future Leader Dog jacket. They are all smiling. They are outside on green grass with green foliage behind them.“My wish for 2021 is that my family stays healthy and able to serve others in our community.  2020 has taught us to work together as a family unit, and that we are more than capable of lending a hand (or paw!) when needed and can adapt to major changes. Since change leads to growth, we hope to “grow” by one more family member by raising Future Leader Dog #10 and continue to support the valuable mission of independence and mobility for those who are blind or visually impaired.”

Vijay Joshi, puppy development coordinator

A young, dark-haired man and a dark-haired woman are wearing blue life vests and are strapped onto a kite on the back of a boat. They are both smiling. The churn of the boat’s motor has created a wake in the water behind the boat. An older golden retriever wearing a red/green scarf is lying down next to a black Labrador retriever wearing a red scarf that is sitting and a German shepherd wearing a green scarf that is standing. They are all leashed to a tree truck. They are in a wooded area with leaves on the ground and yellow and green leaves behind them.“My 2021 wishes are: 1. To be able to smile while flying, and 2. Have the ones I love close with party clothes and excitement! Have a wonderful Holiday Season filled with all the joy it brings!”

Connie Beckett, grant specialist

“I have a couple wishes for 2021. First and foremost in everyone’s mind is for life to get back to normal (and not the new normal as media touts). To be able to visit with friends, family and fellow volunteers, and chat about nothing important. To be able to go to favorite restaurant and enjoy a meal without reminders of the past year.

A small brown Labradoodle is looking over the back of a blue couch. Her front legs are on the top of the couch. She has expressive brown eyes and is white under her chin and on her chest.My second wish is selfish. My hope is to get my almost one-year old puppy certified as a therapy dog. She’s very smart, very energetic and loves people. I think she has a sixth sense when it comes to people’s needs and I’m told by trainers that she seems to have what it takes to become a therapy dog. We are working together toward that goal so she can become a comfort to others like she is to me. I am not a trainer, so I need all the help I can get when it comes to helping her to focus and attain what is needed to reach our goal. It may take a little longer, but I believe we can get it done!”

Kathleen Breen, Lions events and logistics coordinator

“I wish we could peel the silver lining off 2020 and carry it into 2021.

Let’s use global science to fix global problems.

Let’s tend our gardens, visit our parks, talk to our neighbors.

Let’s zoom with our friends, family and co-workers from around the world.  And give thanks for the IT folks who make it easy for us to do so.

Four people taking a selfie on a dirt trail in the woods. From left to right are a young man wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, a tall young man wearing a baseball cap, a woman wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, and a young woman wearing sunglasses who is taking the photo. They are all smiling.Let’s finish those old projects, start new hobbies and sometimes just do nothing.

Let’s make a point to order take out and shop local.

Let’s appreciate teachers, hairdressers, health care workers, first responders, retail workers, servers and delivery drivers.

Let’s be grateful for our paychecks and share with people who don’t have enough.

Let’s make a point to reach out to people who might be lonely or overwhelmed.

Let’s vote.

Let’s share memes and jokes and LOL 24/7.

Let’s pivot, think outside the box, and reinvent ourselves not because we have to… but because we KNOW WE CAN!”

Read more about our Voices of the LDB Community initiative.


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