Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Reading For Me

When I was in grade school, I was taught to read large print text. I attended school in the late 70s and 80s. At the time, my understanding was that children who had low vision were taught to read print, instead of Braille. My large print books were heavy and huge. At first the other children thought my books were cool, but I hated the books because they were big, bulky, and the pictures were awful. They couldn’t blow up the pictures unless it was done in black and white. All of this made me feel different than the other children.

When I read text, I have to hold it right up to my nose in order to see it clearly. I have vision only in my left eye. When I entered the third grade I got a pair of reading glasses. These glasses were extremely thick and could not be used for viewing distance. I liked the glasses though because they allowed me to see a larger area of the print, so I used them most of the time. Reading print took a long time because of the fact that I only had the vision in one eye and because I had to hold everything so close.

When I was not in school, I didn’t read for pleasure. Once in a while I would pick up a book, but it was usually something I had already read and I would skip around and only read the parts I thought were interesting. Every time there was something to read for school, I would think, “Oh no, I have to read this.” I would actually glance through the text to see how long the paragraphs were and I would look for pages that had lots of pictures because it meant I could skip them. Sometimes I would count the number of pages that I had to read, wasting time that I could have been using to get the reading complete.

When I entered high school, I was placed in the Reading Lab a few days a week. The teacher would give each of us interesting short stories to read. It was actually the first time I read something that seemed enjoyable. At the beginning of the year, the teacher would test our reading comprehension and repeat the test at the end of the year. I did notice that my reading comprehension improved each year and that made me feel good.

When I went to college, I took a required study skills course, which taught me many valuable techniques and strategies to help me find the important parts of the text books. But, I still hated reading and would find any way possible to either avoid it, or get someone else to do it for me and read it aloud to me.

Once I graduated from college I really didn’t read much of anything, unless it was necessary. I have many friends who use the NLS books and the BARD website to listen to audio books. Sometimes people will buy audio books for me. They are nice to listen to, but it has still taken me a long time to do reading for pleasure.

Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution. I promised myself that since I write for this magazine, that I would read every weekly edition. Well, I made sure to read each and every weekly edition of it. I have to tell you, I’ve learned so much from all of the other writers and I’ve gotten great enjoyment and education from reading it each week. I’d like to thank my fellow writers for doing such a great job and thank you for inspiring me to read each week for pleasure. I intend to read each week’s edition in 2014 and am looking forward to learning from everyone. Thanks for making reading a pleasure for me!

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – A Tribute To An Old Friend

When I was in the third grade, I became interested in the piano. I liked the wide range of sounds you could make by pressing the various keys on it. We went into our local mall one day, where they had opened up a piano store. My parents signed me up for piano lessons with the teacher they had on staff. After a few lessons, the teacher told me that they had replaced her with a new teacher. We decided to continue to work with her and she moved to a new studio. After a few months, things didn’t work out.

My mother did some research and found a new teacher for me. She spoke with him at length on the phone and explained that I was legally blind and she also explained what happened with the former teacher. A week or so later, I met Craig, my new teacher. He was an animated man with a good sense of humor. He lived in a 3 family home on the third floor with his roommate, Lewis.

They had a black upright piano and a house full of clocks. During our first lesson, Craig did some exploration with me to see how I had been learning to read music and also spent time getting to understand the nature of my vision. We moved through lots of little exercises in learning to read music and he assigned some homework for me to complete by our next lesson.

Our lessons were to take place at his home at 11:00 AM on Saturdays, for one hour. As we worked through our first lesson, I had brought my music with me that the former teacher had given to me. He informed us that this woman was not a good teacher. I recall that he was quite upset with the fact that she had done such a poor job with me, but he didn’t want to say too much and come off as unprofessional.

As our lessons went along, Craig became a good friend to my family and me. He encouraged me to practice each week and he always reminded me that I could do anything I wanted, as long as I put my mind to it. We not only had our weekly lessons, but, many times, we would all chat and laugh together and the lessons would run longer than expected. As we worked through the piano books, he would also look for songs that interested me as a special project. I was allowed to work on the special project, as long as I kept up on the other music and scale exercises that were in the regular piano books.

A few years later, Craig moved into a huge Victorian house up on a hill. The house was very old and he took it upon himself to fix it all up and make it livable. He also bought a baby grand piano to replace the upright that we had been using for several years. It was a lot of fun to play on his grand piano and sometimes we would attempt to play a duet piece together. This actually always resulted in both of us making lots of mistakes and laughing for several moments before we ever got to the end of a song. I don’t think we ever actually were able to complete one of those pieces together, but it sure was a fun experience.

Whenever he would assign a new piece to me he would always play it so that I knew how it was supposed to sound as a finished piece. Sometimes he would point out places where there were new notes and special timing that I needed to be aware of as I learned the new piece. One day, I had asked if I could learn “We Are the World”. So Craig did some research and found a version of the song that happened to match my skill level. He gave it to me under the condition that if my other work suffered, he would take it away until I continued my usual pieces in the regular books. After a few weeks, he asked me to play what I had learned. As I played, he suddenly ripped the music away from the piano stand and I continued to play the rest of the song from memory. He was astounded that I had memorized the entire piece. He didn’t mind that I had memorized the piece, but he wanted to make sure that if I were to memorize pieces that I did it correctly. Sometimes, I would get something wrong and he would take a red pen and circle the part that needed work. Many times, I would ignore the red pen and do it wrong for a few weeks. I recall an occasion when I had deliberately missed a few notes for several weeks. He took the red pen and circled the notes so many times that it made a huge imprint in the page. Needless to say, I learned the correct notes after that incident.

At some point in 1988, Craig found out that he had cancer. He began to take treatment for the cancer. Things went well for the most part. The treatments made him very sick and quite tired. We continued our lessons and he seemed to be doing ok through the treatments. One Monday, we went for my usual lesson at 5:00 PM and he wasn’t home. Later that evening, my mother spoke to him and he told her that he had started a new medication which had made him sleep for several hours. He asked us to call him the following Monday before we left to go for my lesson. Since we had missed the lesson from the week prior, Craig said that he would give me this lesson at no charge.

I called his home the following Monday before we left and thought I had dialed the wrong number because an unfamiliar voice answered. I hung up and dialed again. The same voice answered. I told the person that I was supposed to have my piano lesson at 5:00 PM. She asked me if she could speak to my parents. My mother took the phone and spoke to the woman. She quietly hung up the phone and told us that Craig had died in a car crash. I was shocked and sad. I cried for hours, it was unbelievable and so sudden. There was an article about the crash in the newspaper and there was no funeral or calling hours.

It took many years before I would touch a piano again. I didn’t want to have a new teacher because I knew it wouldn’t be the same as when Craig was my teacher. This was one of the first times as an adolescent that I had to deal with losing someone important to my family.

When I attended college I had to complete some common core courses. In 1994, I decided to take Piano Class to fill this requirement. Even though the class was for beginners, I figured that I would start over again and see what I could learn from the beginning, since it had been several years since I had read music, or played the piano.

I did all of this in tribute to Craig. The course was amazing. The instructor was a world renowned pianist who had played at the White House for several of our Presidents. When he played on location, he had his personal grand piano flown in to use. I learned a lot of new things in his course and it was a lot of fun to work with him. He could play anything at anytime, without even having a piece of music present. My final project was to pick a piece and play it from beginning to end. This piece was supposed to be challenging, but not too difficult. As we searched for pieces, he came around and approved our choices. My choice was to play “Silent Night”, in honor of Craig. I practiced it for weeks. There was a rough spot in the middle where I always messed up. Finally, I got through it with no problems. The day came for my final exam and I played it for the instructor and it went perfectly. I got an A on the piece and an A in the course. Since it was December, I went home for the semester break and played the piece for my family on our piano. It was a nice way to have some closure from the passing of Craig.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Conference Travels

I recently attended a conference called “Getting in Touch with Literacy.” This was a conference for teachers of the visually impaired from around the United States. This was the first time I had traveled to a conference in a few years. It was also the first time I had traveled to a conference with Joel. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go a great distance to attend the conference.

It took about 2 hours to get to the convention center and hotel where we would be staying. Upon our arrival, we checked in at the hotel and then checked in at the conference area. Everything was in one place, so it made it easy to get around without the need to travel to many buildings. There were two things that were an issue for me. First, they took me to the guide dog relief area. It was a small area, not much bigger than my dog. When I tried to get him to relieve himself, he refused. The area was a simple rectangle and it wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, the person who brought me to the area was an orientation and mobility instructor. So, we walked to the front of the hotel and a gentleman told us where there was some grass that could be used as a relieving area. This meant that we had to walk two blocks and complete some street crossings. All of this was completely overwhelming to me, but we got to the area and Joel was able to relieve himself.

The next little challenge was the modern elevator system. In order to use the elevator you needed to insert your room key before the door of the elevator closed. If you weren’t successful the elevator would bring you down to the main floor until you inserted your room key. This is a new feature in these hotels and I think it is to eliminate strangers from gaining access to the guest’s rooms. Whatever the case, it is rather challenging to get a key card into the slot before that door closes! The hotel’s keycards are, however, equipped with a raised dot on them which does make it easy to get the key into the rooms, or elevator slot.

Once we entered our room, I got Joel all settled with his food and water dishes and a resting spot. As we settled into the room, he was a bit nervous because of all of the different noises that were happening around us from the hotel and convention center.

In the next part of this article, I’ll share some amazing experiences that Joel and I had and also tell you about what I learned during the conference.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Post College Part 2

Finally after a year and a half, I found a job at a small insurance company. This was my first full time job. I was hired as the Office Manager for the company. This gave me a chance to learn some professional skills and work in a good environment. Some of my responsibilities included taking phone messages, completing computer tasks, keeping the office organized and helping others in the office. The job lasted a few months because the company got bought out by a large insurance company and all of my job responsibilities changed. I did not have the necessary background to continue at the company. I could have gone to school and received all the necessary training, but, I didn’t want to spend my time selling life insurance policies to people. I left the job at the end of the year and began a new job for the new year.

I found this new job as a telemarketer for a commercial collections company. At first, this seemed like a very exciting job. I figured that since I liked talking on the phone, this would be a natural decision for me to do phone and customer service work. Unfortunately, I quickly began to hate the job. I had to make calls to small businesses to convince them to use our collections services. Typically, 85 to 90% of the calls I made didn’t get me any responses. I hated this job so much that I would think up excuses on Sunday afternoon so that I didn’t have to go into work on Monday mornings.

Finally, I decided to leave the job. I handed my boss my letter of resignation and was surprised to hear his response. He said “I will pay you to come in each day and find a new job for as long as I can afford to have you hear. You can’t just go home with no job. Someday, someone else out there will be smart enough to realize that you have an education, which means you have the ability to think, make important decisions. This person will look beyond your eye condition and hire you. I believe in you and I won’t let you leave this company without another job lined up.” I will never forget when he said this to me. For the first time, I knew I had found an employer who was fair and honest.

A few weeks later, he came to me and told me about a new business that had opened in the area. The company was being run by a gentleman and his father. The owner of the company, he explained, was legally blind. The company sold products to people who were legally blind, just like me. I called the company and spoke to this gentleman. A few days later, I visited the company, met that gentleman and had an interview with him. I began to work there at Vision Dynamics two days before Thanksgiving and stayed employed there until the end of 2005.

While at Vision Dynamics, I met many people who experienced blindness and low vision who were just like me. I was their store manager. My responsibilities included waiting on customers, helping them find products and solutions for their daily struggles, keeping a clean, neat environment, teaching people to use computers with adaptive software and running a Summer Camp program for children.

After so many years of thinking that I was different from everyone else, I saw firsthand at my job how so many other people were losing their vision and looking for answers to questions like, “How will I read my daily mail, how will I pay my bills, how will I prepare meals, how can I keep my independence? I began to realize that I was not alone, I had the same issues and there were products and services out there that could help me. This was a huge turning point in my life.

I began to take the bus to and from work each day. Even though my father was happy and willing to drive me to work, I decided to take a step towards doing things on my own. The bus worked out well. After about a year of this, I found my first apartment and moved in with a roommate. By observing other people I met at work, I would learn to do things on my own. I learned to cook by using the kitchen products I had sold to other customers. I bought a cane and used it to help myself each day. I began to teach other people how to use computers running screen magnification or screen reading software programs, just like the ones I used to ring up daily sales! I learned that my life was not any different than anyone else’s life. I could do everything that everyone else was doing, the difference was, I would do things using different equipment or different methods but the end result was, I was getting the job done.

After living in an apartment for two years, I bought my first home, a 3 bedroom townhouse. I moved into it alone and continued to embrace my independence. After several months, Whitlee, my first guide dog arrived and I learned how to become independent outside of my home.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Post College

I graduated from college in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. About four months before graduation, I visited the career center on campus to get some assistance in figuring out what I wanted to do upon graduation. The only idea that I had at the time was that I wanted to work with people.

The career center taught me how to complete a resume and cover letter. They also invited me to a career fair. During the fair, I met many people who represented various companies and organizations in the area. I gave out many copies of my resume and had my first experience networking for myself. I am quite sure that most of those people did not know that I had a vision problem because I didn’t use a guide dog and I refused to use a white cane. I figured those items were only meant for people that had no vision.

I ended up having an interview at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA. Perkins was looking to hire people for Summer Program Aid positions for their Summer Outreach program. Since I had been a Resident Assistant in my college dorm, I figured this would be a good possibility. Perkins hired me at the conclusion of the interview.

The Program Aid position at Perkins was to last three weeks, which was the duration of the program. There were twelve students enrolled into the program who were from all different parts of New England. These students had varying degrees of vision loss and ranged in age from ten to sixteen years old. There were several other staff members who worked in this program. Some were sighted and some also had varying degrees of vision loss. For me, this was my first time being around groups of people with vision loss and it was my first time working with coworkers with vision loss.

Some of the goals of the program included helping the students learn to complete daily living tasks without prompting, assisting students with orientation and mobility, teaching students to work together in groups to accomplish tasks and helping students learn self advocacy skills.

After this program ended, I returned home with my parents and I did not attempt to perform a job search because I figured that Perkins would hire me for the school year since I had worked there for the summer program. I didn’t give any thought at all about what I would do if Perkins did not decide to provide me with employment. I also figured that I deserved some time off since I had been in school for twenty years. This was absolutely the wrong attitude!

The fall came and I was not hired at Perkins School for the Blind. This meant it was time to give some very serious thought to what I would be doing for employment. My first big decision would be to go out and buy a brand new computer so that I would have all the tools necessary to perform a job search, complete my resume, complete cover letters and perform internet searches. The new computer did help me to accomplish these tasks.

I simply had no idea what to do and I had less of an idea about how to effectively communicate and carry myself professionally as a person who is legally blind. I went on several interviews and explained myself to the best of my ability but had no luck. I would locate a potentially exciting job, get excited for the interview, have the interview and never hear back from most employers.

Transportation to and from a job was also a huge issue. I did not live near any public transportation and also was not near any major highways. At the same time, I could not afford to move away from home since I was not employed. Sometimes, I justified staying at home because I was collecting Social Security Disability and I figured this was enough to keep myself supported so why bother putting myself through the stress of job searches and interviews. After all, it seemed like it was all too hard to try to convince people that I had plenty of ability to do a job. It was not fair to me that people were afraid to hire me because of my vision loss. I figured it was everyone else’s fault that I couldn’t find a job.

My other frustration was professional counselors that would visit me and advise me to go bagging groceries at the grocery store. They said that I would have to get my foot in the door somehow and that people had to start out somewhere. I hated this advice because I figured it then was a waste of my time and money to have gone to college, obtained my degree and then bag groceries. Obviously, I resisted that advice and did not take any of those jobs. I began to feel useless and I figured I was not capable of doing anything at all. It was a lot easier to just stay home, watch TV and eat whatever I wanted. At the same time, I knew this was the wrong attitude so I was constantly struggling with myself. One day, I actually stayed in bed until my mother came home from her full time job. She was quite angry with me and we had a long talk about her responsibilities in our home etc. That is one discussion I will never forget!

I recall one interview where I walked in the entrance and tripped down a step. I walked a few more steps and tripped down another step. Finally, I got to the reception desk and as I introduced myself, everyone around the room was laughing because I tripped down the steps. This was not the way to begin an interview and it was not the way it would have happened if I had walked into the place with a white cane or guide dog. I did not get that job after all of my tripping!

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Pennsylvania Part II

On Wednesday of my trip, we went to a local mom and pop restaurant for breakfast and I enjoyed some of the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten in my life. After breakfast, Joel was treated to a nice long walk along the river. The area had many walking trails that went near the river and also went into the woods. Again, Joel thrived in this environment.

We did some shopping in the afternoon and I bought some new sunglasses and a nice fall jacket. After the shopping, we went on a special trip to visit friend’s friend Katie. Katie and her husband are Amish. When she met me, she excused herself and went to the field to bring back her husband. Upon her return, she and her husband showed us around their property. We bought some vegetables at their stand and then they took us into the chicken coop. Her husband instructed me to put my hand in the chicken’s nest. I found 2 eggs in the nest and my friend found 2 in his nest. They told us that white chickens lay white eggs and brown chickens lay brown eggs. Once we left the chicken coop, they showed us their other chickens that they sell as eating chickens. They had plenty of fresh vegetables growing in their gardens and they taught me how to take lima beans out of their pods. It was quite an educational experience to meet these delightful folks and learn about their daily lives. They don’t have any phones or electricity. Katie told me that she knew a family up the street that had five blind children.

As we left Katie’s farm, I was struck by the beauty of the trees, fields and hills. Everything was rich and green and there were lots of barns and also some horses pulling buggies. We visited another friend and bought some homemade jams. I don’t recall the woman’s name, but she lived a few miles away from Katie. It sure was an educational experience to see how these people live such remarkable lives. Sometimes I think we should take a lesson from them and appreciate the simple things in life. I think we sometimes get too caught up in our daily stresses and we forget what mother nature has given to us.

Later on, we took our fresh vegetables home and enjoyed a nice lunch of fresh beets, lima beans and rice. It was quite delicious. For the duration of my trip, I was happy with all of the wonderful food I ate. One evening my friend took some fresh tomatoes from his garden and made a dressing. He tossed the dressing into some fresh angel hair pasta and the result was an amazing dinner.

This was an important trip for Joel and me. It was valuable for me to see how well he did during our adventures. He showed me his strengths and weaknesses. We gained experience together in many new places and situations. I gained confidence for the next time we travel and I understand better his limits. Perhaps our next trip will involve some airplane travel!

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – An Angel

As you know, Whitlee, my first guide dog, passed away recently. I’ve been doing a lot of mental reflections on the situation ever since I received the news of her passing. She sure was a dignified dog who knew what her purpose was on this earth. When she worked, she folded her ears back and looked like an arrow. It was difficult to distract her away from her work and she was quite an intense, serious dog.

My life changed the day she entered into it. We began walking 2 miles each morning before work and another 2 miles in the evenings after work. I never gave any thought to the fact that once she was at my side, my fears about getting hit by cars disappeared completely. It was like she took those away from me.

It can be so easy to get bogged down with all of the problems in our country and around the world. Sometimes it seems like everyone is stressed out and it becomes easy to adopt this way of feeling. Even if the stress doesn’t affect me, I think that just like everyone else, I get caught up in the rhythm of work during the week and weekends off. Sometimes it is easy to think that people aren’t paying attention, or that they don’t care.

I’ve been taught a lesson many times in my life. People really do care, even if they don’t see me all the time. Many friends and acquaintances have written or called me when they found out about Whitlee’s passing. Everyone expressed their concerns for me and they reminded me that there are lots of people out there who have gone through this before and they are happy to help if I need anything. It is heartwarming to know that people genuinely do care and they want to help. I am so thankful and grateful to everyone who has come forward with their words of encouragement and support. Many times in life, there is gain that is found from loss.

Whitlee is my hero. Like all of you who have guide dogs, every one of them are precious and we must honor them every day and cherish each day when we put the harness on them and ask them to go forward. They hold our care and trust close to their hearts and they are loyal every day that they are alive. Whitlee had thirteen wonderful years here on earth and everyday that she was with me, I always thought to myself, “She does so much for me, what can I do for her? How can I make her happy and comfortable?”

I’m glad to have known Whitlee and I praise and honor every day that we had together. Now, I must be sure to keep Joel’s best interest in mind as we work together each day. I have made sure to pay attention to him carefully in the days that followed the news of Whitlee’s passing. I was obviously upset about it, but, with Joel, I reminded him that he is a good boy and that everything is ok. We’ve taken quite a few trips to play with his favorite ball outdoors and he has enjoyed some good runs with his ball in his mouth. I want to make sure that he is happy and ready to work each day, just like Whitlee did for almost 9 years. So, make sure you give your guide dog, pet dog, or any other animal in your life a big pet and a hug. We love them and the love is unconditional!

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Some Thoughts

I think it was very interesting to see in last week’s edition of the magazine that someone posted that they feel that guide dogs should only be placed with totally blind individuals. First off, I will say that I respect everyone’s opinions; we are all entitled to our opinions. However, I feel the need to share my thoughts on this matter.

As an individual who is considered to be legally blind, I too experience the limitation of not having the ability to hold a valid driver’s license. Knowing what I know about my visual limitations, I would never get behind the wheel of an object that weighs thousands of pounds, which could act as quite a weapon and place other people’s lives in danger, just for the sake of trying to drive.

There is no right or wrong way to try to achieve independence. Some people find it by using the white cane. Others find it by using a trained guide dog and others use sighted guides. How would our lives be different if the only people who could use a white cane were those with complete blindness? What would happen if there were laws that said that only people with partial vision were able to use sighted guides? These two ideas would place a burden on us and we would feel a bigger sense that our independence and freedom were compromised. Everyone should have the right to make the best choice to fit their specific mobility needs. To a greater degree, if we are comfortable, we will strive to take our independence as far as we can and push ourselves to new heights.

Many years ago, I was told by a vocational rehabilitation counselor that I was not eligible to have a guide dog because I had some usable vision. The counselor said that I would make too many decisions for the dog and it wouldn’t work. As a result, I gave up on the idea and waited almost 15 more years before I had the courage to ask a guide dog school if I was eligible to have a dog.
The decision about whether or not an individual can use a guide dog should always be between the guide dog school and the individual who has applied for the dog. To say that only individuals who are blind can be the only ones who should have these dogs is restrictive and limiting. The schools have plenty of dogs available and they have highly skilled, compassionate people on their staff ready to help applicants, regardless of their degree of vision loss.

I know many successful individuals who use guide dogs on a daily basis. These folks are all successful in their personal and professional lives. They all have some kind of vision loss. Some of them can see relatively well, while others are completely blind. This does not impact their abilities to use a guide dog in any negative way.

It is up to us, as guide dog handlers, to educate the public about the importance of these dogs in our daily lives. Anyone who observes me in any situation will know that I can see, but my vision is quite poor. I think it is important for us, as guide dog handlers, to be out in public, to stay active, and show others that we do live comfortable, independent lives.

If you still have doubts about whether or not a guide dog should be used by handlers with some usable vision, I will now share with you a letter that I wrote the other day when I found out that my first guide dog, Whitlee, had passed away.

Thank You Whitlee.

On Monday, July 14, 2003, Whitlee entered my life. She was a beautiful black, brown and tan German Shepherd with a sharp personality and a beautiful heart. She was raised by a wonderful family and she learned all of her good manners from them and their other dogs.

I can honestly say that I immediately trusted her from our first walk together. She was alert and attentive when she wore her harness and when she was resting throughout the days. When she worked, she was full of pride and dignity and I could always tell that she had a great drive to do her work every day. I could pick her harness up at any time and she would eagerly step into it and be ready to go!

On December 13, 2003, Whitlee saved my life. We were walking on our usual morning walk. It was cloudy and cold as we walked. We came to a four way intersection that we had crossed many times in the past. I thought it was safe to cross so I gave her the command “Whitlee forward”, and she immediately stepped in front of me, preventing me from taking my step off the curb. As she did this, a car came in front of us. She had seen this oncoming car and had made a quick decision for me. She put her life in danger to keep me safe.

Whitlee did so much more than save my life. She gave me self confidence that I never had before I met her. She was my first guide dog. She taught me to trust myself, to be fearless and to take risks and adventures. We traveled many places together like Mt Washington, Tampa, FL, Disney World in Orlando and Cape Cod. Everywhere we went, I was proud of Whitlee. I was proud of the courage and confidence she gave to me and I’m proud today that she lived such a wonderful life.

I am proud and thankful for the special friendship that I have developed with Bonnie and Steve Pavlach, Whitlee’s foster parents, and I am thrilled that Whitlee got to spend her golden years with the Pavlachs. They are very special people and they’ve done incredible work over the years raising many amazing dogs like Whitlee.

So, Whitlee, thank you for everything. You were a good girl. You gave me so many great experiences and we shared so many good and bad times together. I will miss you immensely, but thank you for giving me all of the strength to live a better life. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have the courage to continue working with my new dog, Joel, and continue to build my courage and confidence as a person and independent traveler. May God bless you and may you always be in heaven.

I love you Whitlee.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – September Trip Part 1

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I went to visit my family. I had a nice holiday with them and on Monday, they drove me to the train station and I boarded my first Amtrak train headed to Pennsylvania. These trains have lots of room and all of the conductors were very helpful. When I got to the train station and found the Amtrak terminal, a gentleman greeted me and said that the train was running about thirty minutes late. He waited with Joel and me for a bit and walked us out to the platform as the train was about to arrive. He boarded the train with me and got me to a nice seat roomy enough for both me and Joel.

When I arrived at Penn Station, someone boarded the train and escorted me off the train, up an elevator, and then down an elevator to the next track. I later found out that these people are part of Amtrak’s Red Cap service. He helped me onto the next train and again, we found a nice, roomy seat for the both of us. This train went to Philadelphia and then on to my final stop, Harrisburg. I didn’t have to get off in Philadelphia so it was nice to just relax and wait for everyone to leave and for the new group of riders to board.

Joel was perfect during all of the train rides and through all of the hustling around train stations. When we finally got to Harrisburg, I’m sure he was tired after a long day of train travel. My friend greeted Joel and me and we then drove about an hour to his town, Sunbury, Pennsylvania. It is quite a nice town and is located on the Susquehanna River. He brought me to the motel where I would be staying and introduced me to the staff. Everyone was so nice, I can’t stress this enough. People were warm, friendly and kind. It was very refreshing and certainly the way I’d like to spend a relaxing vacation.

After I got settled into my room, my friends took Joel and me to their home and we sat out on the front porch and watched a thunderstorm pass in the distance. After it ended, we walked through Sunbury and went to have some dinner. Joel did an excellent job guiding me along the town’s streets, which had very nice, wide sidewalks. As I said in one of my other articles, Joel really thrives when he is given a challenge. As we walked through town, people offered all sorts of nice compliments about Joel and I’m sure he loved every word.

The next morning, my friend and I went to Bob Evans Restaurant for breakfast. As we ate and enjoyed our food, Joel lay quietly on the floor beside my left foot. The server came over and said, “Someone has paid for your breakfast, we don’t know who it was, but, yours is free today!” We never did know who paid for breakfast, but if they happen to read this article, thank you for the nice gesture! After breakfast, we took a nice, long walk along the river’s walking path. It was a beautiful early September day and Joel loved his walk in a new surrounding!

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Summer Fun!

This past summer, I began to travel again. It has been a long time since I felt comfortable traveling with my new guide dog, Joel. I figured after working with him for a year, it was time to get out there again.

Our first trip occurred during the spring. We took the train down to New York and spent the weekend with some friends. We had to change trains three times and it was a real confidence builder to do these transfers and work him on and off each train. My friends were very gracious and cooked some wonderful food while we visited. The first thing I noticed about Joel during our visit was that he was great at lying down and hanging out with everyone. He just chilled out and remained quiet and relaxed as everyone visited. He was happy as long as I stayed near him. He did well during the overnights too because I kept him with me in the bedroom as I slept.

Our second adventure took place during the hottest part of the summer. I went to a huge river party at some of my friend’s house. It was about 98 degrees outside and my friends and I made a deliberate decision to attend the party later in the afternoon. There were about 70 people who came to the party and this was a huge deal because again, Joel hung out and watched everyone as they chatted, ate and played games. He seemed to enjoy everything that was going on around him and again, he remained relaxed and quiet.

My third adventure took place at the end of July. I took the same trip to New York, back to my friend’s place again for their outdoor picnic. This time, we had to take the morning train and get to the party by the early afternoon. We weren’t able to stay over as we did earlier in the spring due to some logistical issues. So, we stayed at the picnic for about 5 hours and then we took the three trains back home and stayed with my mother for the remainder of the weekend. This was a lot of activity for Joel to take in, since we rushed to and from the party. Once we got back to Hartford, he slept for about 4 hours!

Unfortunately, a few days after our active weekend, my grandfather passed away. So, again, we had to do some short traveling and then we had to attend his memorial service. During the memorial, there were about 150 people in attendance. Many of them came up to me and complimented me on Joel. People were shaking my hand, hugging me and telling me what a wonderful dog I had. They also talked to me about my grandfather and told me that he always spoke of Joel and I when he attended his services. During all of this chaos, Joel was quiet and calm, he never appeared to get nervous, even though lots of strange people were coming up to me.

Through all of these events, I noticed that Joel thrives on challenges and he likes very much when he gets to do things that make him think a lot. He does a better job working when I bring him to places that he hasn’t been to before and he loves to ride the trains.

Next week, I’ll tell you about a great final adventure of our summer together!