Lakenheath school's program raises money to provide guide dogs for the blind
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Six blind people in the United Kingdom are being assisted in their daily lives by guide dogs paid for by the pupils at Lakenheath Elementary School.
Now in its fourth year, the schoolwide program has raised more than $30,000 for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. The money has been collected from bake sales, fund-raising events and simple donations.
Robbie McElroy, 8, a third-grader, did chores around his home, for example, and donated the money paid to him by his parents.
“It helps other people, and we help the community by doing it,” he said.
The project is part of the school’s ongoing We CARE program, which stands for We Care And Respect Everyone.
Individual classes do everything from visiting senior citizens centers to sending packages to deployed troops. The schoolwide program, however, is the effort to pay for the purchase and training of guide dogs at the association’s learning centers.
The main fund-raiser will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday when several blind people and their dogs, including dogs sponsored by the students, will visit the school. Donations are being sought.
Throughout the program, blind people have visited the school several times to show the children the results of their efforts. They’ve had a lasting impact.
“The dog will move around the chairs and the blind person will feel where it’s moving and he or she will follow it,” said Robbie.
Cara Flannelly, 8, a second-grader, said, “I’m a little scared of dogs, so I felt a little shake coming on.”
But, she said, when she watched the dog do its job, she became more comfortable.
Sandra Rodriguez, 9, a third-grader, described the dog and blind person as “kind of a friendship.”
She said life for a blind person would be hard without a guide dog.
“It would be miserable,” she said. “They wouldn’t be able to go places that we go. Some of them wouldn’t be able to get around their house.”
Susan Philippe, who works at the association’s training center in London, said the children’s reaction is perfect.
“That’s what we’re trying to get across — just what the dogs mean for people,” she said.
She said it is important for children to have exposure to blind people so they learn they are normal people who should be able to live normal lives.
“They’re going to take that away and talk to other people,” she said in a telephone interview. “They’ll have that with them the rest of their lives.”
Anne Marks, the host-nation teacher and a moving force behind the program, said pupils come and go, but the effort to buy and train dogs is constant.
“The enthusiasm for this has not dimmed since Day One,” she said.
It is not likely to dim anytime soon. The walk-a-thon on Friday will help reinforce the good feeling for the children.
“More and more people get to have dogs because we sponsor the money,” said Sandra.
Cara said, “We look at the dog and say, ‘Wow, we sponsored that dog.’”