While presenting at the Bow Elementary School on September 11, I will deliver our very first copy of this fantastic new poster to the NH school systems. We continue to be incredibly proud of the educational outreach provided by 2020 Vision Quest and now believe it’s become just a little better as we leave behind a physical reminder of our positive message.
For many, our signature image is this fantastic winter hiking photo taken by Justin Sylvester in January 2012. Recently Greg Neault helped coordinate the entire 2020 Vision Quest team in line with his digital creativity to develop this inspirational poster. I believed it would make a tremendously positive impact upon students and staff alike at the many schools we visit and reached out to collaborate with the Bank of New Hampshire. They were enthusiastic to support the positive community benefit and now the finished product has arrived! We are proud of the message shared in the poster and think it will present a potent reminder of many of the messages we share in our educational presentations to schools throughout New Hampshire and beyond.
How can you get a poster? The easiest way is to schedule us to visit your classroom or school. We are proud to be called back repeatedly to visit schools who wish to ensure each year’s students have the opportunity to hear our messages. Whether we’ve been to visit you before or this is our first visit, it’s a simple process. Refer us to the teacher, administrator, or even PTA member responsible for coordinating presentations by sending them the link to our “For Educators.” page. From there, we provide the information and contact information to schedule us for a visit.
We can and will schedule as far in advance as you require, and in fact, as we become steadily more popular, there is considerable advantage to scheduling early. But we’ll always make every attempt to honor every request for a presentation. More than 60,000 students have experienced the benefit and now through our poster collaboration team we think there’s just one more good reason to schedule with us now!
The arrival of August heralded the start of my training for the California International Marathon (CIM) for December 3. This is where the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) hosts the National Marathon Championship I was very proud to win in 2014 (B1 Division). As I ramped up my own training, it gave me pause to consider the overall fitness and endurance I’ve been fortunate to maintain through my various other health challenges. I believe my general health and approach to preserving this health has been a benefit to my mental and emotional well-being along the way.
The study cites research and knowledge from a physician at the Mayo clinic and I strongly encourage reading the full article. Two salient points I wanted to emphasize involve:
The notion of doing something active every day
Being engaged in something you find meaningful
Both of these are significant factors in living longer and healthier. Whatever fitness we have is the base from which we should appropriately engage in these two approaches whenever reasonable. I have not always been training for marathons or climbing mountains but I’ve usually been choosing to find something active and almost always engaged in something meaningful for me. In various ways, these are rooted into messages I share in my presentations as well. Life, like a marathon, is an endurance sport and with the right training plan we can cruise along and enjoy the experience better than if we face it without training or a plan. In both cases the real value and meaning is in enjoying the training and the entirety of the race, not just the moment of the finish line–no matter how epic it may seem.
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.
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!
Fortunately the title is not quite reality, but there have been several very close calls. I find the world around me increasingly full of distracted people. While I applaud all the healthy undertakings, sometimes I simply do not know how to awaken people from the distractions that occupy the attention at critical times. The judgment to understand when our focus simply should not be divide is essential–and yet more and more I see evidence this judgment is failing.
Recently my good friend Brent Bell was piloting his tandem bicycle with a friend and he was struck by a car. There are very credible reports of the driver looking down at their cell phone as the primary reason for missing the double long bicycle. Both riders were seriously injured and only a bit of luck prevented this from being a fatal accident. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation and luck is not always good.
One part of the problem is that it is so easy to take a quick moment of distraction and believe nothing will go wrong. Many times of success will erroneously reinforce that belief. It only takes one moment to validate just how wrong it is and change many lives forever, and even end them.
My friends report witnessing a frightful number of distracted drivers.
Studies suggest distracted driving while texting is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol and yet that sobering reality is still not sufficient to wake many from the high risk behaviors. How can I possibly hope to do so with this blog? I’ll settle for every saved glance as a possible saved life and build from there – with your help.
Autumn is a wonderful guide for me and I’ve learned that one of her largest challenges is distraction. If I keep her focus I know she’ll keep me safe and on course. I’ve also learned that once distracted I’ll have to work much harder to break her from the distraction and restore us to safety. She isn’t a bad dog or bad guide. She, like many out there, is susceptible to the enticements of distraction.
Similarly, people driving while off in a world of their own distraction are not necessarily bad people. They may inadvertently bring about incredible frustration, or mild or even fatal harm to others as a result of this. Most would be disappointed or devastated to realize that if only they could be made aware in advance in a healthy manner.
So whether you are playing Pokémon GO on foot, tuning the radio, tending your crying child in the car seat, or thinking about that text, think about how much more important it is for you to be fully present in your activity for all the lives you might impact, potentially literally, otherwise. I hope to never write the title of this blog and mean it, but the odds say it’s only a matter of time without all of us making efforts of mindfulness personally and calling on those we know to do the same.
“You get out what you put in!” – Oberto Beef Jerky slogan
Caught in the frustration and setback of my health challenges is hard. Even knowing this is the one-year anniversary of the Tough Mudder Los Angeles made famous by the Oberto Heroes of Summer video, it’s still easy for me to struggle amidst the present obstacles.
This past week was particularly challenging as more of the “deep brain seizures” took place along with some other neurological deteriorations which may in part be due to a significant cold which returned in force and became bronchitis and pneumonia. I’m particularly susceptible to these due to a neurological problem with my throat which impacts my ability to keep my airway clear. The week was spent largely being sick and attending medical tests, treatments, or appointments. There was one exception and it’s the heart of this post.
On Thursday, March 23, I attended the South Derry Elementary school and spoke to roughly 250 students from grades K-5. My invitation was initially a braille letter from a blind 5th grader. Our message is designed for everyone of all abilities and all ages. I adjust the approach and some of the concepts for desired points of emphasis to the target audience though the core resonates for most who share the presentation with us. Despite this I feel a slightly deeper connection when sight impairment is involved.
This single visit was the sum total of my week’s work and due to schedule adjustments it fell just short of a number goal I was hoping to share with all of you. With this visit we have presented to roughly 49,950 students just in schools. I had hoped to celebrate the announcement of 50,000 students and while we are short of that goal for the present moment, I cannot help being simply proud of how many young lives we have impacted so positively.
In that pride and appreciation is also the reminder of how much it helped my own spirits to feel I was contributing to the world in a meaningful way. Certainly I do know this but knowing isn’t always enough. In our most challenging moments, what we feel is more powerful than what we know. I needed the rest and recovery time tremendously this week and yet for me the best recovery derives from the feelings that visit gave to me.
I look forward to our future announcement of reaching more students and significant benchmarks. Most of all I look forward to working forward through the obstacles, surging past the setbacks, and getting my medical challenges sufficiently under control that my vision for where we are going remains as positive and clear of focus as the 2020 Vision Quest deserves. In the meanwhile a special thank-you to the team of volunteers who have kept things going and allowing me to step back for the short term goal. I hope to share some of their accomplishments on that end with next week’s blog but if you visit our homepage you’ll see some of the signs of that work!
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:
G ~ Guiding Eyes for the Blind
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.
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
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.
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
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 .
Michelle 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.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
I recently returned from a week-long travel for presentations at the University of New Hampshire and four days in the Camden, Maine region. I returned recharged and invigorated by the rewards I received during this process. While our presentations to students are at the core of our mission, too few of the people who support and encourage our efforts have the opportunity to fully appreciate the positive impact routinely shared with me during and after these presentations. I left for this trip a little weary and feeling overwhelmed and returned eager to begin working to enhance our ability to continue this mission as strongly as ever. Why? Administrators, teachers, and students once again went out of their way to ensure I understood the incredible gift they felt our program provided to all of their lives. I gained a new perspective on having a vision, building teams and communities to enhance our lives and methods for achieving goals and dreams which resonate simply and powerfully with the inspiration of our overall delivery. I thought more about framing and understanding our failings and frustrations as possible pathways to more gifts, as the sample video below illustrates during one of this week’s presentations.
When we find ways to be a positive part of helping others, we ultimately enrich our own lives in ways which are a tremendous gift to others. When caught up in the administration and behind the scenes work of our project, there are times I lose sight of the rewards. Thanks to many people who strive to help us expand our outreach in schools and beyond, I have the opportunity to be reminded and recharged by these results.
So as we enter the month which often puts a focus upon being thankful, I am sharing the gift we give and the reward it provides to me. For all of you who help ensure we continue to be shared and supported in our 2020 Vision Quest, I hope you too may feel a part of that gift so warmly given to me. A very special thanks to John and Hellen Kuhl of the Camden Lions for bringing us to Maine and for Brent Bell in bringing us to UNH so very often as well!
With a mountain as large as Kilimanjaro on our horizon, we are slated to have a more quiet start to our school presentation approach this year. As this is a cornerstone of our mission, I wanted to encourage each and every one of you to help us by becoming an active part of our outreach. I’m sharing a blog from a few years ago and celebrating that we have now increased our school contact to more than 43,000 students. We have finished the marvelous update to our “For Educators” page and are building the essential list of volunteer drivers. We still need you to help share the opportunity with teachers, administrators and parents as well as choosing to be part of the volunteer system which makes this all possible. I won’t return from Kilimanjaro until October but Kristen Taylor is eagerly ready to help coordinate and schedule presentations going forward to make up for the lost month this year. So will you help? It’s as easy as the “ABC” blog below suggests!
Our adventures have often captured attention and earned us some remarkable media attention. They are, however, so very far from what we do and why we do it. Those adventures are entirely funded personally and we use the attention to hopefully draw focus to our real work. While this information and more is available for those who do explore our website, I wanted to highlight it for the readers of our blog and social media directly.
I once believed everything fun or important in my life was over. I thought I could not and would not have a life worth living. I made jokes and mostly treaded through waters of denial, frustration, and even anger. This is a far distance from the person I’ve become and I never want to forget the roots of those feelings when I first transitioned to blindness at the age of 22. What made the difference for me was the right people and the right perspective.
As I’ve since learned and often try to express, “Going blind is so much harder than being blind.” In fact, for any of us the first encounter with any challenge is so much more difficult than it is once we choose to plan a path for going forward. While there are countless friends and family in the fundamental part of my conversion, two organizations in particular deserve my appreciation and much of the efforts of 2020 Vision Quest. As such, we raise funds and proudly donate those funds to the NH Association for the Blind and, forever in honor of the Mighty Quinn, Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I hope through my efforts and the involvement of many to ensure the life changing services those organizations provide will always be available for the manyh who would benefit so greatly from those services. That’s the “why” behind the fundraising–and yet, still not our core mission.
I have a goal to help every single person who might experience feelings similar to my own at that lowest time. I want to demonstrate by my actions and encourage through my words as well the notion of “choosing the right response to any adversity,” about believing in possibility and setting goals to continually strive to reach the peaks we all deserve. I especially wish to provide this opportunity and perspective to students of all ages and to enhance all of our communities by the building and sustaining of each individual into the teamwork which makes life and possibility more successful. I have been fortunate to earn and receive the support of so many people and organizations in a multitude of ways. Whether joining into the core team of volunteers for 2020 vision Quest, helping my own adventures, helping us connect to schools, businesses, and organizations to further our message, donating directly or by attending events like our Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction, there have been many transforming this message from an “I” into a “we.”
While it’s hard work and thousands of hours, it is also incredibly rewarding to observe the positive impact we have already had in our brief five years. There are times I’m tired from the adventures, the presentations, the organization and administration efforts and yet when I think of how high we still have yet to climb and what spectacular views await, I find it easy to reach out for this team to join together and continue our climb. I hope you’ll consider sharing this and joining the efforts in whatever way works for you.
(Coming next week: let’s talk about a smaller team as I introduce you to the Kilimanjaro Team heading to Africa on September 18!)
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