Tag: guest blogger



4 Jun 17

By Beth Foote

Randy and Alex, our team captain, in the Walk for Sight

Randy and Alex, our team captain, in the Walk for Sight

It was a cool, partly cloudy morning on Saturday, June 3 when the 2020 Vision Quest team gathered together in Concord, NH with 400+ other walkers for the 14th Annual Walk for Sight. This was my first experience participating at this yearly event hosted by Future in Sight (formerly New Hampshire Association for the Blind), one of the two organizations that 2020 Vision Quest supports with its fundraising and awareness efforts.

People all around me were reconnecting with old friends and greeting new ones. The crowd was a sea of blue “Walk for Sight” tee-shirts and the air buzzed with anticipation. I did some reconnecting myself with some folks I’d met before and was introduced to new people, including our team captain, Alex, who was so inspired a few years ago when Randy spoke at her elementary school that she and her parents have participated in the walk ever since. This year, Alex served as the team’s captain and did a bang-up job!

As it hit 11 a.m., we heard from David Morgan, President and CEO of Future in Sight. He announced that there were more walkers this year than in any of the previous years. He spoke about the organization’s name change and how it reflected its broadening scope of service — beyond just New Hampshire to other states in New England, and to people with a wide range of visual impairment. Future in Sight has served twice as many clients in need in the last year — 2,200 — than it did in its previous year. However, he said, there are still more than 28,000 people with visual impairment in New Hampshire alone. Future in Sight’s mission is to reach ever further to serve as much of this community as they can.

The 2020 Vision Quest team at Walk for Sight 2017!

Alex & Autumn’s 2020 Vision Quest team at the Walk for Sight 2017!

Randy Pierce also spoke, building off David’s words; he encouraged everyone in the crowd to not just support this mission today, but throughout the year. He urged folks to share their experiences with others, especially on social media, and spread the word to those who can support in order to extend the reach of Future in Sight to better help those in need.

After these inspirational words, we were off! It took about an hour to do the 3k circuit through the city. The celebratory feeling in the air was catching. Volunteer staff were stationed at many intersections to ensure safe crossing of the walkers. I heard Randy make sure to thank as many volunteers as he could and I started following his example, trying to do my best to spread around the good feeling and cheer as a part of this community.

A new component to the event this year was called “Walk in My Shoes.” This activity allowed adult walkers to experience what it’s like to move through the city as a visually impaired pedestrian by using blindfolds and simulation glasses, with the help of trained sighted guides. It was fascinating to see walkers go through this experience and listen to them described their changed perceptions, such as disorientation and heightened awareness of sounds around them.

It was an amazing and humbling experience, being a part of this diverse and welcoming community all walking through the streets of Concord. I’m happy to share my experience with you and I urge you to spread the word of Future in Sight’s mission far and wide!

Connect with Future in Sight:

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7 Jan 17

By Jody Sandler

Jody Sandler

Jody Sandler

Happy New Year to the staff, friends and supporters of 2020 Vision Quest! I have been asked by Randy to be a “guest blogger” in order to introduce my organization to you, and to give Randy a vacation from blogging!

We are BluePath Service Dogs, a new non-profit that trains service dogs for families with children with autism. The demand for our services is enormous, as 1 out of every 68 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. We raise and train our extraordinary dogs to ultimately match them with a child and his or her family.

Danny Zarro with Shade

Danny Zarro with Shade

Autism service dogs provide a number of services to a family. First and foremost, our dogs are trained to keep a child on the spectrum safe. Children on the spectrum often show “bolting” behaviors, where they suddenly run away from family, placing them in potentially life threatening situations. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism under the age of 10.

BluePath dogs keep children safe via a specially designed vest, which is tethered to a belt around the child’s waist. Should the child attempt to bolt, the dog will lie down and anchor the child in place. BluePath dogs also provide companionship to a child that has difficulty communicating with other children and can even stimulate social interaction with other children and adults.

Many families with a child on the spectrum curtail trips, vacations, and activities outside the home for fear of their kids’ safety. This affects the whole family, particularly siblings, who miss out on the many things families often do together, like going to a movie, attending sports events or going to restaurants. BluePath service dogs allow families to safely “reconnect,” to go out confidently in their community and enjoy the things that most families take for granted. A BluePath service dog can impact the lives of all of the family members, not just the child with autism.

Although we are newly formed, we have a wealth of experience. Some of us were formerly long-term employees of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I was the Director of Veterinary Services there for 26 years, and was instrumental in the formation of their “Heeling Autism” service dog program, which was recently closed. This was the motivation to form BluePath, as many children were left without this important service.

Our vision is to become the leader in providing autism service dogs. We are excited to begin helping parents rediscover life’s potential for their children AND themselves. We have great admiration for all that Randy and his team has accomplished with 2020 Vision Quest and we are honored to have the opportunity to introduce ourselves to you here.

On behalf of the BluePath team, we extend our wishes for a happy, healthy and successful New Year to the 2020 Vision Quest family!

Jody Sandler DVM
President and CEO
BluePath Service Dogs
www.bluepathservicedogs.org

BluePath Service Dogs

 

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13 Nov 16

By Beth Foote

The Peak Potential Team thanks you for your support!

The Peak Potential Team thanks you for your support!

“And you were all there.”

That’s what Randy said on Saturday night during his remarks at 2020 Vision Quest’s 7th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction. He ran through the history of this amazing event–from its humble beginnings in 2010 with 65 people in the Manchester Derryfield Country Club, to last night when we packed 200+ into our massive ballroom in the Courtyard Marriott in Nashua. He told how, in our first year, we gave $2,020 each to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and New Hampshire Association for the Blind, and that now, 6 years later, we’ve been able to give $20,000 to each association each year for the last few years.

“And you were all there.”

In a lively ballroom full of friends and supporters, Randy shared some of his own journey. He shared triumphs: climbing all 48 4,000-foot peaks in a single winter, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, running two Boston Marathons. He also shared sorrows and hardships: the death of his father on the morning of the 2012 Peak Potential, the death of his beloved Guide Dog Quinn a little over a year later, and a resurgence of his mysterious medical condition over the last year that caused frequent blackout episodes. Randy took his audience through his personal highs and lows of the last few years, and came back to this statement:

“And you were all there.”

Both this event and 2020 Vision Quest have grown by leaps and bounds every year. At Peak Potential 2016, with our new expanded space and biggest auction yet, we are expected to have raised more money than any Peak Potential so far. 2020 Vision Quest has reached a total of 53,000 children in our school presentations, 10,000 just this year. We’ve now created the “2020 Visionary” award to honor those who embody the principles of 2020 Vision Quest, and presented it to our inaugural recipient Dr. John Dagianis. Dr. Dagianis’s quick diagnosis of Randy’s condition over a decade ago helped Randy save partial sight at the time, and he is also widely known for his skill, compassion, and humanitarianism.

But what keeps breathing life into our mission is the joy, friendship, and support of our community. Year after year, both at Peak Potential and in between, our community comes together to support us and each other. It’s because of you that we can keep making the difference that is so important to make.

Last night, Michelle Croteau, a teacher at the Adeline C. Marston School in Hampton, NH, gave a presentation about how important our mission was to her students. She said that 2020 Vision Quest shows that “turning a vision into a reality is possible if you just believe in yourself.”

Our mission to encourage people to achieve their dreams and to financially give back to Guiding Eyes and NHAB wouldn’t be possible without you. By believing in us and coming back, year after year, you’ve helped us turn the vision of this event and our charity into reality. Together, we’ve built something that’s amazing and meaningful. Together, we’ve helped make a difference to so many people who need it.

“And you were all there.”

So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We are humbled and honored by your presence and your support. We hope you’ll keep on coming! We can’t do it without you.

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22 Oct 16

By Greg Neault

Just over a year ago I was scurrying about making last minute preparations for what promised to be the adventure of a lifetime: a trip across the world to Africa with a group of people I respect and admire to scale the flanks of Kilimanjaro, to watch the sun rise from Stella Point, to stand at the continent’s highest vantage point and look out onto the cradle of civilization, and then to explore that region’s amazing natural splendor, a wildlife show like no other on earth.

The team hiking Kilimanjaro in September 2015.I remember very distinctly the eve of our departure. A torturous night spent memorizing the subtle nuances of ceiling tiles. My body calling for sleep, but my mind a flurry with myriad questions about the journey to come. A new continent, country, and culture.

What would the climb be like? Would I make it to the top? Did I forget to pack some critical item? Would Cathy Merrifield be eaten trying to pet a lion? Excited anticipation goes a great deal further than caffeinated beverages in terms of fending off the sandman.

Earlier this month, life found me once again being robbed of sleep by anticipation of a major event: a trip to the hospital with the girl I love to welcome our baby into the world. Fortunately, I had a whole new ceiling to explore as I pored over the questions of things to come.

Kilimanjaro is a giant, for sure, but I’m not unfamiliar with the ways of mountains. My experience and knowledge, acquired over a life of traveling through mountains, canyons, deserts and forests would serve me well in this endeavor. I’m quite accustomed to packing and traveling with the necessities of daily life outside the comforts of home, to living within nylon walls and staying warm on cold nights under starry skies.  Kilimanjaro was a new, exciting, and unique experience, but was still representative of a new chapter in a story that has been unfolding for decades.

As I lay waiting for the alarm to sound on the morning of October the 6th, my mind was a whirlwind of rumination. I have about as much experience with babies as I have with firearms: people have let me handle theirs, but I don’t think they’d be foolish enough to let me wander off with one unattended. We went to the birthing class, we had a baby shower, and I was confident that we possessed all of the equipment necessary for a baby to survive in our care, but once we leave that hospital, we’re it. We are now solely responsible for the survival, well being and healthy physical, mental and emotional development of a brand new human being.

We didn’t even know what sex the baby was and had no clue what we were going to name it! How would we fare in the transition from unfettered adventurers, traveling about the region, country, and world to find new places to run, jump, and climb on a whim, to being responsible for a tiny person in need of care for every necessity around the clock? Do I have what it takes to be a good father? What kind of person will our child grow into? What is up with common core math?

Any anxieties I had in relation to my imminent parenthood were put to rest the minute the nurse put that sweet little baby in my arms for the first time. She was tiny and cute and weighed not even eight pounds. At that moment I knew that I didn’t have to know all the answers to all of the questions swirling around in my mind.

Too few days have passed to declare our success in clearing the hurdle that is the transition from carefree youth to steadfast parental figures. Obviously only time will tell what kind of person she’ll grow to be. I still have no idea what common core is all about.

What I do know is that I’ve mastered the changing of the diaper. I know that, for the time being, if she’s crying, there are only three reasons why and the process of elimination is a short route to a happy baby. I know that a car ride is an even shorter route to a happy baby. I know that my chest is a very comfortable place to take a nap. I know that there are more problems with more complexity than poop in the pants coming our way, but I know that we only need to solve one problem at a time. I know that with the right amount of forethought and a little help from my people, that we can make it happen.

The Kilimanjaro expedition was billed as the adventure of a lifetime, and it did not disappoint. A trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu could be in our future, and that may bear the “adventure of a lifetime” moniker as well.

But raising our daughter, that will be an adventure that LASTS a lifetime. She wasn’t even two full weeks old when she went on her first hike. I’m pretty sure she slept through most of it, cuddled up in a bundle on my chest (like I said, she loves to nap there), but she seems to enjoy the fresh air. As her eyes develop, I bet she’ll grow to appreciate the scenery as well. I hope that one day Stella and I will stand on lofty peaks together, sharing in the types of adventure that I hold dear. But right now, only weeks old, she has a very long journey ahead of her and it’s my job to put her on the path.

Greg and baby Stella on the top of a mountain with a beautiful fall valley view in the background.

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9 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

I had heard an old college friend was facing a challenge as his adult son was battling a particularly difficult form of cancer. A silent and stoic type from my recollections, the friend wasn’t reaching out very far and so when an anonymous but connected outreach came to me I was all to eager to lend help. It is often those who reach out the least who may need the support the most.

What I believe here, however, is that there is some healing in taking action. He took the action to ride the Pan Mass Challenge and to reach out and I’d like to share his outreach with all of you. Cancer is such an ugly challenge and there are so many worthy causes I urge you to consider that if this one can resonate for you.

Please support Jeff and Mitch.

Their blog post is reprinted below:

Why I PMC

Like almost everyone, cancer has touched my family. A cousin, uncle, and grandfather succumbed to this disease.  Other family members have been diagnosed and cured.  The disease is so pervasive they say if you live long enough everyone will eventually get it.

A year ago, my son Mitch was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue cancer at the age of 20. He has battled like a champion through aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a year and his fight will continue on until a cure is found.

I try to imagine the pain, fear, and anxiety felt by cancer patients every day, but it’s not possible.  Over the past year, we have met so many skilled and compassionate caregivers and witnessed first-hand the quality of care and effectiveness of available treatments.  Let’s help them continue to provide the best possible care, fund innovative research, and improve the prognosis of all afflicted with this horrible disease.

The Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) is a bike-a-thon that today raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country.  It is a two-day, 192 mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown, Mass.  The endurance required by the challenge is only a metaphor for that which is required by a cancer patient’s body and mind to fight the disease.  All of the proceeds go to support cancer research through the Dana-Farber cancer institute.

If not for Mitch, for someone effected who is close to you – Ride with me or support the battle by sponsoring my ride at http://profile.pmc.org/JL0432

See the original post here.

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27 Feb 16

By Rick Stevenson

This seems a fitting time for us to re-issue a 2020 guest blog post originally published two years ago on the topic of “access”–in the sense of having a level playing field so that all people, whatever their challenges or disabilities might be, are able to participate in activities they love.

Massachusetts-based non-profit Waypoint Adventure shares 2020 Vision Quest’s commitment to helping people overcome and/or work around disabilities. They are holding their annual spring fundraising party this Friday evening, March 4th in Cambridge, and Randy is the keynote speaker!

Why not come out and enjoy a chance to hear one of Randy’s keynote presentations while meeting many great people and learning about a worthy organization? Learn more and register here.

Read below a post from March 2014 about how Waypoint works in communities to create and improve access for youth and adults with disabilities.

By Rick Stevenson

Access: (n.) - the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance. (www.dictionary.com)

For our friends all around us with various disabilities, it’s all about access. It can be about other factors too, of course, but access is often a huge issue. Access to some things can be relatively simple: a home or office… a database… a person’s attention… property. But how about a mountain trail… a pristine forest near your home… a wall at a climbing gym… a glassy-calm river in summer? Are these easy for all to gain access? Unfortunately, no, not yet. That’s not as simple as adding a new wheelchair ramp or railings, but people and organizations are out there making progress.

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the   Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to be involved in two events offered by Waypoint Adventure, an eastern Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that provides life-transforming outdoor adventure programs for people with disabilities. One event was a weekend in February at Pinkham Notch, NH (at the base of Mount Washington) when eight of us ascended the Tuckerman Ravine trail toward the floor of the huge bowl. Two of the group had cerebral palsy and rode up in “sit-skis”—modified lightweight chairs mounted on pairs of cross-country skis, with ropes and bars for pulling and restraining. With an afternoon temperature of around 15 degrees F and the wind from the west howling down the trail at us, the trip up and down the famous trail was adrenaline-pumping, hard work, exhilarating and full of joy for all eight participants. Trust was critical, especially on the descent—when anything less than excellent execution would have meant too much risk—and teamwork and communication were superb.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

The second event was a Volunteer Appreciation Night held at the Central Rock Climbing Gym in Watertown MA, at which Randy Pierce was guest speaker. About 50 current and/or future Waypoint volunteers packed a room at the gym for a great meal, brief presentations about Waypoint, and expressions of appreciation, as well as Randy’s keynote about ability awareness, goals, and how important an engaged, enthusiastic community is to a volunteer-based organization. Afterward, attendees had a chance to try out the walls of the gym and/or take a certification class in belaying.

Waypoint’s mission is to “…help youth and adults with disabilities discover their purpose, talents, and strengths through the transforming power of adventure.” They believe that all people, regardless of ability, should “…have opportunities for adventure and through them realize their personal value, strengths and abilities. These experiences will help people become stronger individuals and community members.”

Access is, almost literally, about leveling a playing field. It’s also, thankfully, about pushing the envelope of what was previously thought to be impossible, so that people of all ages with disabilities can keep having new, exciting, stimulating experiences. Problem-solving. Creative thinking. Often that’s all that stands between a person with a physical disability and a challenging, thrilling, life-changing adventure, and here’s where some of the similarities between Waypoint Adventure and 2020 Vision Quest become most obvious.

Randy Pierce, as an adventurer who happens to be blind, has a need and a strong desire for access. Access to mountain trails, road races, ski slopes, a martial arts gym, a tandem bike. He’s solving challenges every day of his life, either in teamwork with his guide dog or human guide or on his own; whether training for a road race, hiking a trail, getting around his house or around Nashua, or running 2020 Vision Quest. And in turn, one of 2020 Vision Quest’s many value-adds is helping other vision-impaired people gain access–to whatever is most special in their lives.

Then there’s Waypoint Adventure, the creator of the two events mentioned above and pictured here. Run by co-founders Adam Combs and Dan Minnich and program coordinator Julia Spruance, (one of whom, I’m proud to say, is my daughter, but I won’t reveal which one), they not only create adventure programs but also invent and fine-tune unique “access methods” that allow individuals with disabilities to enjoy many of the same adventures as others. Methods and tools like the “sit-ski” (photo above left), an off-road wheelchair, an adaptive kayak, or an adaptive rock-climbing harness. You could say they’re in the access-creation field.

A final story that helps define and illustrate access: at a 2013 indoor climbing gym event run by Waypoint for teenagers from the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the boys, after some training and a few exhilarating trips up and down the wall, asked a Waypoint volunteer if she worked at the gym.  Hearing that no, she was with Waypoint and this was a gym open to the public, he asked, “So is this a gym for blind people?” The volunteer explained that no, there were sighted people there too. Final question: “Then am I climbing on a special wall?” Upon hearing her final answer, that “…no, you’ve been climbing on the same walls as everyone else,” he lit up with a wide grin. His biggest thrill of the day—perhaps the week or month—was realizing that he had been climbing on the very same walls as everyone else.  There’s that access again. Behold and marvel at the difference it can make!

Learn more about Waypoint Adventure.

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6 Feb 16

By Jo Swenson

2015 was a landmark year for Broadway. It boasted a handful of new hits as well as long-running classics. One of the aspects of last year on Broadway was the diversity of characters represented, from the 2015 Tony Award-winning Fun Home that was the first musical to star a lesbian main character to Hamilton that cast the founding fathers as people of color. Along with these new musicals there was also a revolutionary revival of Spring Awakening.

The original production of Spring Awakening opened in December 2006 starring Lea Michele, of Glee fame, and Jonathan Groff, who you can hear as the voice of Kristoff in Disney’s Frozen. At the time the production was a bold new musical that explored teenage sexuality and life at the turn of the century (the musical was based on a play by the same name). Given the setting the characters spoke formally but when it came to the songs they employed contemporary musical styles and language. The show was successful and gathered a strong following of young people before it closed in January 2009.

It is unusual for a musical to be revived on Broadway less than 10 years after the original production closed but the 2015 production added a new, revolutionary element. It was going to star hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing actors alike and be accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences. As opening night of the revival approached many wondered how it was possible for a musical to star deaf actors. Many people I know thought that there was not going to be any singing, just signing. Others were unsure how many of the actors were actually going to be deaf or if it was simply going to be hearing people signing and singing. Yet director Michael Arden pulled it off beautifully.

About half of the cast was deaf and half was hearing. Of the three main characters two were deaf and one was hearing. All of the actors signed the majority of the show. The moments when they were not allowed to sign—for example, in a classroom scene where they were told off for signing instead of speaking—the words were projected onto a screen that was incorporated into the set. The characters who were portrayed by deaf actors were given another actor to sing for them. This allowed for the musical to employ deaf actors without the show being silent for the hearing audience members. It worked seamlessly and even at points added an extra depth to the characters as the actors and singers interacted. Also having deaf and hard of hearing characters play characters who are misunderstood and not listened to by the adults of the show was a powerful thing.

In addition to employing more deaf and hard of hearing actors than any other musical currently running, the show also had the first person in a wheelchair on Broadway. Well, I should clarify while there have been actors who have been in wheelchairs as part of their characters, but none of them needed the wheelchair. Ali Stroker uses a wheelchair on and off stage and was cast as a character who was not written as needing to have a wheelchair but she was the best actress for the role so she got it no matter her mobility.

This revival of Spring Awakening proved that anyone who works hard enough has a right to be on a Broadway stage. The original production did not include deaf and hard of hearing actors or anyone in a wheelchair, yet this new production musical still had the same power, if not more, with an inclusive and diverse cast. Hopefully 2015 was the beginning of a trend of diversifying Broadway.

If you would like to see what the production looked like, here is a link to one of their rehearsals (warning: mature language):

For more information about Deaf West (the theatre company that put on this production) head to www.deafwest.org

 

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16 Nov 15

By Michelle Russell

What an amazing Event!

Last night I attended my fourth Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction (the sixth one they’ve held). As I reflect on the night one word comes to mind:

GIVE….

G ~ Guiding Eyes for the Blind

A golden lab puppy named Honey meets Autumn

Future Guide Dog Honey meets Autumn!

The event was attended by 24 puppy raisers from NH, ME and MA and 6 puppies in training  (3 black Labs and 3 yellow Labs).

The hit of the party was 8-week-old yellow Lab “Honey” that was carried around and loved by all.  This event is a special night for the puppy raisers. It is a chance to socialize with each other while supporting a cause that is at the core of each of us. This is to provide the gift of love and raise a puppy for approximately 14 months and then give it back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. This priceless gift – a Guide Dog will provide a person with vision loss, not only independence and mobility but also companionship.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind receives check

Guiding Eyes for the Blind receives check from 2020 Vision Quest

The dinner works as a wonderful training venue for our pups.  It allows the puppies to practice greeting people, settling at the tables with other dogs and practicing good house manners while food is being served. We each appreciate the chance to be welcomed with our pups by all of those attending the event.

Pat Weber, the Regional Manager for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Bill LeBlanc, the NH Region Coordinator, accepted a check from 2020 Vision Quest of $20,200 for the non-profit Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

A second check for $20,200 was given to the NH Association of the Blind.

I ~ Inspiration

NH Association for the Blind receives a check from 2020 Vision Quest.

NH Association for the Blind receives a check from 2020 Vision Quest.

The culmination of the dinner is getting the chance to hear Randy Pierce speak.  The slideshow that accompanied Randy’s talk reviewed some of his amazing accomplishments as a blind athlete this past year: running the Boston Marathon and the National Championship, being the first blind athlete to compete in the Tough Mudder in LA, watching the amazing video and then Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Throughout the slideshow Randy mentioned his beloved Guide Dog Quinn who passed away from cancer a year and a half ago. His dedication and devotion to Quinn is evident as you hear Randy’s voice quiver at the mention of his unforgettable pup. All of the puppy raisers also learn by watching Randy’s Guide Dog Autumn working the event with Randy.  She is a beautiful black and tan Labrador retriever that Randy received from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

The array of silent auction items.

The array of silent auction items to raise money for our worthy causes.

V ~ Vision

My take away “nugget” from Randy last night was this: “You do not need to have sight to have Vision.”

Randy has vision. He is a goal setter. We found out that in the next year, Randy plans on writing a book. It was fun watching Randy act as an auctioneer – one of the special auction items was to be emailed pages of the book he will be writing each month. The silent auctions were fabulous. It was fun to take my pup “Gary” and walk by all of the incredible silent auction items. What a great way to raise money for the 2020 Vision Quest charity.

E ~ Education  

Lively participation in our live auction.

Lively participation in our live auction.

One of the key missions of 2020 Vision Quest is to lead and inspire students and professionals to reach beyond adversity and achieve their “peak potential.” It is mind boggling to think that Randy and 2020 Vision Quest have spoken to 45,000 students. He recounted letters he has received from some of the schools. Just recently,  a student that attended one of Randy’s presentations was going to drop out of school — but decided not to because of the inspiration and impacting message that he received from Randy. He does this all while integrating life lessons into little stories that teach about overcoming obstacles by managing adversity.

By attending the Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction, I am able to support the organization that is so important to me – Guiding Eyes for the Blind – but I gain so much from Randy.  He inspires me to do more…. To push myself…..  To set Goals…. To have vision…  in both my personal life and in my career.

“To Believe and Achieve Through Goal Setting, Problem Solving, and Perseverance!”

Thank you, Randy… you GIVE .

Bio:

Barnaby and MichelleMichelle Russell, MBA, is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and a NH Region Volunteer.  She has raised 3 pups, currently one of the pups she raised – Black Labrador Retriever “Randy” is in NYC working as a bomb detection dog keeping us safe. The puppy that she is currently raising (pup #4) is 5-month-old black Lab “Gary” who attended the dinner. She is also a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Nashua, NH. Please visit her website.

If anyone is interested in becoming a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind or buying/selling a home in NH they can contact Michelle@NHselecthomes.com for more information.

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24 Oct 15

By Jose Acevedo

Jose and Randy hiking.

Jose and Randy hiking.

On October 21st, 1991, I walked out of Malden hospital just outside of Boston with a new lease on life. Just 3 days earlier, I had attempted to end my life. It wasn’t a cry for attention–I was deeply depressed and honestly wanted to die. I recognized at the time that life had its ups and downs and thinking it through logically, as well as accounting for where I was emotionally, I felt that living simply wasn’t worth it. I honestly don’t know if everyone feels like this at some point, or if it is only a subset. Is it 1, 50, or 99% of us that faces deep depression at some point? Despite varied research findings, I don’t know and frankly, it’s irrelevant to my message. A good friend encouraged me to write down this story when I shared portions of it recently, and I realize that even if it only touches one person, it will have been worth it. As you read, please consider the possibility that you or someone you care about may need help and pushing through any awkwardness towards open dialogue could make all the difference.

Without jumping into all of the details, I’ll summarize the various aspects of my life that influenced my state of being at the time. My home life was terrible with a lot of bad history and I had very little relationship with my parents. I had made bad choices and alienated my closest friends. High school was over and I wasn’t on my way to college, so I felt adrift. The tipping point was reached when a close friend died in a tragic accident, leaving me to face questions of mortality for the first time, seemingly alone.

Alone. What a tricky little concept. When we’re there, in the roughest of times wrestling with our demons, some of us can’t see anything or anyone that we imagine could truly help. Or, we don’t want help for various reasons, including feeling unworthy like I did. In these moments, we feel utterly alone. Yet the reality is that we are surrounded by so many people and resources that can help. For perhaps the first time in human history, it’s nearly impossible to not trip over some well-meaning person or organization that can assist with just about any problem we might have – at least here in the states. In our darkest personal moments, there are almost always a number of people who care about us, either personally, or at least as fellow people.

Self portrait during dark times.

Self portrait during dark times.

When I was at my lowest point in October of 1991, it didn’t matter that my future had plenty of possibilities to be bright. I didn’t care that people loved me – I didn’t love myself. To be more precise, I think I probably hated myself. It’s tough to say exactly through the haze of time and change, but that’s likely true on some levels. Ironically, I had volunteered as a peer counselor in high school and had formal training on this kind of thing. I knew the symptoms of depression and resources available better than most but when it came down to it, I couldn’t see through the fog of my own depression and didn’t value my own life enough to cherish it. I vividly recall considering my options on the afternoon of Thursday, October 17th, when I hit rock bottom. I remember eyeing a local police officer and wondering if I could wrestle his gun away for personal use, sifting through toxic chemicals available in the basement to drink in volume, and watching trains roll by on nearby tracks. What if I failed to get the gun or the officer was hurt? What if the chemicals ruined my internal organs but left me alive, or the train crippled but didn’t kill me? No thank you. I share these details to make it clear that contrary to any sensationalized image of an obviously emotional time bomb ticking away its final moments, I was the picture of rationale thought that day, logically weighing exclusively bad options. In the end, it was 64 over the counter sleeping pills for me. I even went to 4 different stores to purchase them without unwanted attention.

Luckily, the human body doesn’t easily tolerate vast amounts of weird chemicals so you’re more likely to get really sick and vomit than anything else with this kind of attempt. One doctor would later tell me that the manufacturers of such pills put a little something nauseous in every pill, but I’ve heard and read conflicting reports since. Regardless, I wrote my suicide notes that Thursday night, overdosed, and went to sleep – hoping it would be forever. I can’t tell you exactly how sick I got that night or how close to serious harm. I only know that I was found in rough shape the next morning and rushed to the hospital.

My sketchy memories start that morning with trying to make the bed, while it and I were covered in vomit, trying fruitlessly to pretend to the caring person who found me that nothing was wrong. My next memories are in the hospital as my family arrived, then being transferred to another hospital by ambulance, meeting with various nurses, and trying to pee in a cup for them so they could determine what exactly was inside me. I even remember that I was such a mess, I tipped over a full cup of urine in my completely disoriented state, much to the dismay of the medical staff. I probably have about 60 seconds of recall scattered across 12 hours that day, before I started to come down from my really bad trip in Malden Hospital’s psychiatric ward. I do remember that as I tried to eat dinner that night, my arms were shaking quite a bit – a lingering side effect of the drugs still in my system. I was in a frightening place, surrounded by strangers, trying to play it cool, and I couldn’t even get food to my mouth. It’s still hard for me to think about to this day, without feeling minor emotional aftershocks.

I spent that weekend getting clean in the hospital, but only because I couldn’t sign myself out as an adult until Monday. I sat in group and individual therapy sessions, spoke superficially about my problems, and faked a desire to get better. That Saturday, a friend I barely knew at the time came and brought me clean underwear. It may seem like a small gesture, but it meant a whole lot to me and we grew much closer that coming year. Only years afterwards, when we had drifted apart like people do, was I able to express my gratitude for his act of kindness. It had sparked a desperately needed bit of gratitude in me and on some level, revealed a glimpse of the fact that people really did care. On Monday morning I signed the appropriate paperwork and wandered out into the next phase of my life, not much better equipped to face my depression than when I had walked in.

24 years later, this is a cry for attention. I know suicide prevention day/week/month is in the rear view mirror, but this is a topic that simply doesn’t ever get enough attention, so yes, I’m crying out. I’m crying for people to open their eyes and hearts to a massive hole in our society that last year reported the highest suicide rate in the US since 1987. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 10-24 year olds, accounting for more deaths each year than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED. I’m crying for each of us in a position to help, that we would act with compassion, ask the uncomfortable questions, make ourselves available, and refuse to let the stigmas around mental illness and self-harm continue to be perpetuated. I’m crying for those struggling with depression to take one more chance at life and seek help.

Jose poses at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Reaching new heights on Kilimanjaro.

I was reminded on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro of a decision I came to years ago, after breaking free of my own depression. If I want my life to have any one specific impact, it is to share my experiences in ways that would help others live. That those in need would feel just a little less alone and seek help, and that those nearby would be more quick to offer it. Scaling Kili was one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken. I keep telling people, it was only about 30% physical and 70% mental. At that altitude, unless you are an elite athlete or you have trained a whole lot, your body simply starts to fail. You can breathe, but you aren’t getting enough oxygen per breath. By summit day, every single member of our team was dealing with multiple symptoms of altitude sickness – shortness of breath, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, light headedness, disorientation… you name it. You don’t make it to the top of Uhuru peak at 19,341 feet because you feel great – you make it because you choose to put one foot in front of the other, over and over again. You reach the top of the world because you persevere, even when you don’t want to anymore and feel like you can’t. Eventually, when you get back to normal altitude and you get more oxygen, you can truly appreciate what you’ve accomplished and be thankful. Before getting oxygen and rest however, I described the summit experience in the moment as the most defeated I have ever felt after a victory.

I sure am glad I went up that mountain, and that I came back down. It is not lost on me that mountain climbing is a great metaphor for dealing with adversity and just as we made our last push for the summit of Kilimanjaro during the deepest hours of night from midnight ‘til dawn, so were the worst years of my depression utterly dark. Just like I stumbled up through switchbacks for hours on end a month ago, wanting to quit and doubting I would ever reach the top, the years after my suicide attempt are somewhat of a blur. If you’ve ever been depressed, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, think of all the dreams you quickly forget each morning when you wake up. Try to remember them even 5 minutes after brushing your teeth, let alone years later, and you can’t even be certain the memories are of your own making vs something you may have seen on TV.

After leaving the hospital 24 years ago today, I politely refused medication and therapy. In my mind, if I couldn’t figure out how to survive without help, I shouldn’t live. What a stubborn idiot I was. I’m eternally grateful it all worked out in the end, but it was touch and go for years. If you knew me between 1991 and probably around … 1996, you knew a dead man walking. I was so depressed during that period that I barely recall the early 90s. Months and months of my past are simply lost based on how little I cared at the time. If you did know me back then, you may have caught a glimpse or a steaming heap of that particular symptom – how little I cared, for myself and others. There was a façade that I was trying super hard to make true, so congratulations if that’s what you saw. The truth is I was extremely selfish and made a further high volume of bad decisions during that phase of my life. What I did do however, that worked out in the end, was to choose one thing I hated about myself at a time and work to change it. It didn’t happen overnight and I still make mistakes today, but eventually the scales tipped the other way.

In the beginning, I thought about killing myself multiple times daily. That faded to once daily, then every few days, then weekly, and eventually monthly. It didn’t matter that good things were going on in my life or that I had great people who cared about me. I was secretly struggling with these emotions and at any moment, I could have ended it. One day, years later, I realized months had gone by and I simply didn’t feel that way anymore. I actually recall the occasion. I was on my way to work one morning and saw a small child passed out in the back seat of his mother’s car. Mom was navigating her station wagon around a rotary and this little boy was only loosely strapped into his car seat, such that he was leaned forward unconscious on the back of his mom’s seat. For whatever reason, this blissfully exhausted child mashed up against the driver’s seat at an awkward angle struck me as beautifully funny and I laughed out loud to myself. I realized in that moment that I had fallen back in love with life again. Perhaps not even again, but for the first time in my adult life.

Where am I even going with all of this? I suppose it comes back to a few key concepts:

  1. So many of us struggle with depression and specifically, thoughts of hurting ourselves or even taking our own lives. Even if only through the power of shared experience, you are never, ever alone.
  2. To borrow from other campaigns, it gets better. Or, I should say that it can. Ultimately, it comes down to choice. Depression may be a phase or a life long struggle, but there are choices you can make and steps you can take to make things better.
  3. Don’t ever be ashamed or afraid to ask for, accept, or offer help. Whichever one of those invisible boundaries you break through, it may just be the connection that makes all other things possible.

This whole experience is something I am completely available to talk about. If you feel alone and ever consider harming yourself, I hurt for you. Whether you are facing your own demons or thinking of a friend, please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can help in any way. I own no capes and can’t solve your problems, but I can find time to listen really well and offer my own perspective if you think that may help. Whether it’s me, someone else you know, or specifically someone you don’t, seek help. No one should have to face this by themselves. I’m not a professional in this space and contrary to my own journey, I strongly recommend seeking professional help, but we can talk about that and other options you have. That’s the key: you always have options, no matter what it feels like. Speaking of help, if someone makes the offer, they’ve made a choice – they’ve put themselves out there. They care on some level and have broken through at least some levels of discomfort to be there for you. Try not to dismiss these offers off hand, as is so easy to do for various reasons from embarrassment to attempted selflessness. Respect their choice and effort – see where it may lead. I didn’t accept as many offers as I should have and my road was much harder as a result, needlessly, for me and probably others.

Jose and his wife Kristen.

Jose and his wife Kristen.

I’m lucky enough that after facing this head on for over half a decade in my late teens and early twenties, I was able to pick up the pieces and move on, depression-free since. I’m still a passionate and oft-times fickle person, and I still make plenty of mistakes – just ask my closest friends and family. But for years, I have experienced a love of life and found joy in the little things. I’ve been able to navigate a successful career, build a beautiful relationship with a woman I love very much, enjoy the present deeply, and look forward to so much more in the future. That’s not necessarily possible for everyone who battles depression, but various strategies for balance and opportunities for happiness exist if you choose life.

If you need emergency help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline @ 1-800-273-8255. If you aren’t in immediate danger and think trading perspectives with me would be of any assistance on your journey, please email me by clicking here.

I know this was a long read and may have been tough in portions. Thank you for taking the time to get all the way through. Thanks as well to my dear friend Randy Pierce, who has been an incredible source of strength and support to me through the years – including the invite for this guest blog post.

Be well,
jose

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19 Sep 15

By Greg Neault

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost

Group of climbers posing at the summit of a mountain in the summertime

The “Lost Boys!”

Robert Frost’s classic verse feels every bit as true today as it did in 1916. A commentary on deviation from the norm, it extols the virtues of a life spent traveling off the beaten path. Taking the path less traveled can sometimes seem a daunting task–people have a natural fear of the unknown. The temptation to stick to known routes and the feeling of comfort we get from the familiar often overshadows our desire for growth and change. However, sometimes life gives us some much needed encouragement to blaze new trails, often in the form of mistakes!

As this blog hits social media, a Monday morning will be unfolding. Breakfast will be eaten, commutes undertaken and a return to the safe and comfortable routine of the work week begins. As your morning is commencing I shall find myself embarking on a journey down a path much less traveled in my circles, somewhere between the Tanzanian city of Arusha and Camp 1 at 9,400 ft on the flanks of Mt Kilimanjaro. As I now sit at my desk at home amid a flurry of activities aimed at preparing for this adventure, I find myself reflecting on the path that led me to this juncture. That path forked unexpectedly one August day in 2008 and has continued that trend, much to my benefit.

The first of these fated forks occurred as this path of mine crossed that of some other folks in the White Mountains. A half dozen spirited gents up from Boston on a weekend outing to hike the Bonds. We shared a campsite and a few laughs on the first night of our backpacking trip through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We bid them adieu in the morning as we moved on, expecting it would be the last we’d see of them. Little did we know, a mistake was to encourage the blazing of some new trail on their part, both literally and metaphorically. Two days later, we encountered the same, although much less spirited, group of gents. They had taken a bit longer a stroll than planned and were now quite far from their beds with little sunlight remaining. We offered them an alternative route out of the woods and a ride to their car, an offer they accepted with great verve. The miles hiked that day with the Lost Boys, as we had dubbed them, proffered more bonds than had their hike the day before. I left the Pemigewasset Wilderness with sore feet and what I anticipated would be lifelong friendships.

Sadly, after three years of adventuring together, my friend Christian Gagnon was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He was very suddenly hospitalized and, with a weakened immune system, was unable to return to the wilderness or engage in the outdoor activities that he loved so much. I spent the next few month’s weekends alternating between hikes, hospital visits, and attending to my other responsibilities. It was on one of these hikes that the path forks again, but this time, the mistake was mine.

Group standing on the summit in the wintertime.

Meeting up on Mt. Hale!

I was out for a hike on a crisp December day with a relatively new friend, in Aaron Sakash. We had designs on climbing Mt Hale via the aptly named Hale Brook Trail. However, an error on my part lead Aaron and myself astray, hiking up the wrong access road and finding ourselves at the North Twin trailhead. We were amidst the debate as to what our plan of action should be from there, when we were happened upon by a half dozen spirited ladies and gents out for a winter’s hike. The shepherd having become the sheep, I was informed by one of these gents that Hale was their goal as well and there was a route to access it from the North Twin Trail via an unmarked and unofficial trail. After laughing off his directions (take a left at the tall straight skinny tree seemed a bit ridiculous at the time), he asked us to join their group for the trip to the trail junction, he would point out the turn and we could carry on about our way. He warned, however, that they may slow our progress a bit, as his friend Randy was blind.

I was taken aback. I had left my brief conversation with the man without so much as an inkling that he couldn’t see me as we spoke.  My disbelief was elevated further when he told me that not only was this blind man hiking, but that he also intended to summit all 48 four-thousand foot peaks in the state in a single winter. When you don’t know, all you can do is doubt, and that is precisely what I did. We hiked with the group for the better part of that day and, by virtue, got to hear more about their plan and process along with their mission to reach out to people and raise money for great charities. At the conclusion of the trek, he invited us to look him up on social media to track his progress along the way. Once again, we bid them farewell, figuring our paths may not cross again.

Christian Gagnon posing by a peak.

Christian Gagnon.

Whenever I visited Christian in the hospital, he always asked if I had been on any hikes lately. At first, I felt bad telling him about my woodland adventures while he was stuck in that sterile hospital environment. I realized shortly, however, that he really wanted to hear about it. He couldn’t do it himself, so it was better to experience it second hand than not at all. When next I visited, I had quite the tale for my friend. “You’ll never guess what I saw on my last hike,” I said, and then told him of my encounter with the blind man who aimed to climb the 48 in ONE single winter! Like mine, his eyes went wide at hearing this, but where mine had been filled with skepticism, his were full of wonder and possibility.

“What are you going to do?” he asked me.

I was puzzled by this question. Christian was undergoing treatments for his leukemia which involved chemotherapy, radiation, blood transfusions, and a lot of medications. Some times he was more lucid than others. My first thought was that he must be a bit confused, not quite following the story. But, he was on point. “To help him–you have to help him!” was his reply. Christian told me that most people don’t do things like that with their lives. He said when you see somebody trying to do something special, something great, something selfless, that it is your responsibility to help them do it. He also told me that he hoped he would get to meet this man when he was feeling better, he wanted to hike with him and hear about his journey.

Unfortunately, Christian’s journey was cut short. I read the story of the day I found the Lost Boys as we laid him to rest on March 2, 2012, just days before Randy completed his 48th winter peak.

I may have lost my friend, but I have not lost his wisdom. Since that time I have done whatever I could to help Randy reach his goals, however small or large a contribution I could make, and I will continue to do so. The doubt and skepticism that once clouded my vision has been replaced with the wonder and possibility that made Christian’s vision 20/20.

As I sit here on the verge of another great adventure I look back on the road that lead me to it. I accidentally took the one less traveled by, and that HAS made all the difference.

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