Contributor Kimberly Morrow – With a New Leash on Life Retired Veteran Seeks Public Support to Help Others
Like many other retirees, Doug Olender, 59 and a veteran with 23 years of service, enjoys spending time with Mihwa, his wife of 40 years, and their grandchildren. He also enjoys running the family errands, making the 6 mile trip to WalMart and back several times a week. Like many typical Missourians, Olender travels as much as 22.8 miles per day. But unlike most Missourians, Olender does not drive, so he travels the long distances on foot. He surmises that the exercise is a great benefit in overcoming a past heart attack, Chrohn’s disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. And besides, he knows the routes so well he can do them with his eyes closed.
Olender served eight years in Korea, eight years in Germany, two years in special forces in Fort Bragg, and served as Light Wheeled Vehicle Mechanics Course Director at Fort Dix. Now, Doug Olender is going blind due to a service-related injury. When his progressive vision loss was diagnosed in 2002, Olender initially felt a bit sorry for himself. “During those first years of declining vision, I stayed at home most of the time, and I gained 75 pounds.” These days, however, feeling sorry for himself is the last thing on Olender’s mind. With 50 pounds now shed and his loyal 3-year-old guide dog by his side, Olender is intent on helping others, and he is asking every fellow Missourian to join in.
Olender discovered early on that life as a blind or visually impaired Veteran isn’t easy. He serves as treasurer of the Blinded Veterans Association Missouri Regional Group. The organization’s total budget is $1480 a year. Yet there are more than 1,200 blind and visually impaired veterans in Missouri. “The only items that are funded are rides to the VA or rides to the doctor,” Olender explains. “And just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you don’t need a social life. But when you are unable to drive, transportation costs are astronomical, and often, it’s difficult just to run basic errands. Being a blinded veteran can be a lonely business. That’s where additional funds would help.”
On Independence Day, 2012, Olender received his own independence in the form of a 2-year-old black Labrador Retriever guide dog named Harry. Olender heard about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a guide dog school based in Yorktown Heights, NY, from the Veterans Administration. 90 days before obtaining Harry, Olender began going through a rigorous screening process, during which he had to pass extensive medical evaluations, as well as an exhaustive home interview process conducted by the school. Once accepted, Olender was given a class date, at which time he was transported free of charge to the Guiding Eyes facility near Westchester County, NY, a spacious campus and dormitory setting where Olender was matched with Harry and the two of began the intensive 26-day training process. At the end of the program, Olender, Along with twelve other Guiding Eyes graduates, was fully prepared to begin a new life with a specially trained, $45,000 canine partner. As is the case for all Guiding Eyes dog candidates, it didn’t cost Olender a penny. The way Guiding Eyes sees it, the gift of freedom is priceless. And now, Doug and Harry are out to say “thank you” in a very big way.
Helping others comes naturally to Olender, who was voted 1992 all-Europe US military volunteer of the year.
On September 25, 2013, the team of Doug and Harry will begin the 250-mile trek from Clinton, Missouri, to St. Louis, walking the Katy bicycle trails in an effort to raise funds for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and for the Blinded Veterans Association, Missouri Regional Group, and to raise awareness of all the blinded and visually impaired veterans. In total, the out of pocket cost for the walk is $1500. His goal is to raise $10,000 for each organization and help as many veterans as he can.
All donations by check can be mailed to:
Attn: A Walk for Blindness
Guiding Eyes for the Blind Inc.
611 Granite Springs Road
York Town Heights, New York 10598
To support the Blinded Veterans Association, Missouri Regional Group, please make checks payable to:
Blinded Veterans Association Missouri Regional Group Treasurer, Doug Olender
1906 S.E. 5th Street
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063