GDB client and Board member Cheri Owen recently caught up with fellow GDB alum Derek Daniel to talk with him about his active lifestyle and recent work with GDB’s Alumni board.
The interview is part of a new series called Client Corner where clients interview one another about their lived experiences.
Cheri: Derek, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Derek: I was born and raised as a Hoosier and currently live in Indiana with my wife and two children. I’ve been in full-time ministry for 20+ years, serving in various roles. I also have a background in performing arts and have enjoyed performing in community theater. At one point, I was an entertainer at a theme park, singing and dancing in the live shows each day. I currently work as a worship minister and pastoral counselor at a local church. I’m paired with my second guide dog named Koa, a black Labrador Retriever.
Cheri: Tell us about Koa.
Derek: Koa and I have been a team since August 2019 when we graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind’s Oregon campus. He has brindle coloring on his snout and the front part of his legs, and I like to say that he looks like he was playing in the mud. Koa is an amazing worker. He is so mindful and cautious when we work. He is amazing with my teenage kids, always wants to give love and be touching someone, or have his head on a lap. If Koa had a job, he would be a taste tester. His favorite snack is popcorn. If he hears us making popcorn on the stove, Koa is front and center, waiting for a piece to drop!
Cheri: When did you realize you wanted to be a guide dog handler?
Derek: I grew up knowing about guide dogs from the media, so when I lost my sight, I knew right away I wanted a guide dog. Both my vocational rehab counselor and my orientation and mobility instructor were critical in introducing me to the guide dog lifestyle and setting me up for success.
Cheri: How has Koa changed your life?
Derek: The partnership with Koa truly impacted my life. One of the biggest things is the speed at which I can walk. Koa has a fast pace and I love it! Also, he allows me to rest my remaining vision as he "takes the wheel" to get us from here to there. He is a constant companion and friend!
Cheri: Tell us about your hobbies and interests.
Derek: I am a huge Star Wars nerd, and I love movies in general. I enjoy reading - I love to read anything about Star Wars, and I’m also a big fan of the author John Grisham. I love country music too. My favorite musician is Ben Rector. I listen to him so much that when Spotify sends out their yearly “what I listened to," I received a video from Ben Rector saying that if I am watching this, I am in the top 1% of his fans! I am a musical theatre buff and I love songs with a story.
My wife, April, enjoys hiking, and I love her, so by default, I go hiking. (Laughter) I enjoy watching my son, Noah (17) play lacrosse and my daughter, Aubrey (13) participates in band and drama. My YouTube channel is another hobby I enjoy.
Cheri: Tell us more about your YouTube channel.
Derek: It’s called Life After Sight Loss. I offer encouragement to help other people experiencing vision loss, so they know they are not alone and support them on their journey.
Cheri: That’s wonderful. And of course, you’ve gotten a lot of support in your journey from our GDB community.
Derek: For sure. GDB is so great because it offers clients ongoing support services so if you ever have questions about your guide dog, they’re just a phone call away. They’ll even come out to your house to help you work through any issues. I’m proud to be a member of the Alumni Board. We have alumni chapters throughout the US and Canada for all our clients, not just guide dog clients. We host activities like webinars and discussion groups and offer opportunities for mentoring, networking, and advocacy. GDB is like one big supportive family.
Cheri: Thanks Derek for talking with us.
Derek: My pleasure.