Except for the puppy part of Guide Dogs for the Blind, the experience of being part of this organization has been far more than I expected. I originally joined the program because I love animals, and I thought it would be a great way to help people. Many of my friends at the time I joined Guide Dogs for the Blind were joining National Charity League (NCL) because in our neck of the woods that was the thing to do. I went a different route because NCL was very high profile and required a significant financial commitment. I was shy, and I wanted something different, something that fit me as a person.
The program's impact on me began immediately. The story of how Guide Dogs for the Blind started to change my life and those around me picks up when I picked up my first puppy to raise and experienced for the first time the monumental task and responsibility of caring for a guide dog day-in and day-out. Of course it is all second nature now even though there is more to learn, but in the beginning, I needed to understand my role and all the rules. And as importantly, I had to assert myself with my brothers when they would play or work with the dog in a way that was inconsistent with how I was taught. Dad even got off track on occasion, and I needed to remind him. We, quickly, as a family realized that we are in this together. It was not like playing a sport, or the piano, or having your own hobby. This was a life style choice. I knew right there and then that in order to be a successful puppy raiser, I needed everyone in the family to understand how important it was to do this together the right way. And I needed to be confident enough to remind people of that.
Jenna was my first puppy and she successfully graduated from the program. She was given to a wonderful person named Sue Mangis who is a teacher. We have been friends ever since I met her at the graduation ceremony in San Rafael. Of the people my experience with Guide Dogs for the Blind has affected the most, I think Ms. Mangis would be around the top of the list. We keep in contact through email and she never fails to mention how amazed she is of the work I have done with Jenna and how well Guide Dogs for the Blind paired them together. Every time I think about them, I am so touched by her and Jenna. I realize that much of what Ms. Mangis is saying is because of the great job that the trainers and staff do in San Rafael, but it is still nice to hear anyway. Also, hearing her stories and her day-to-day activities made easier by Jenna and their relationship has truly shown me how big of an impact this organization makes. Although it is painful giving up a dog, Sue Mangis is one of those people who keeps me doing what I do for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I believe the work Jenna does and the relationship I have with Ms. Mangis has changed us all for the better.
My school and friends have also been impacted by my work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Not a week goes by that somebody does not ask me about one of the dogs. In fact, if too much time passes for them without seeing the dog, they get mad at me for not bringing her to school. When the dog is not with me, people really want to know what is going on. Somehow they feel connect to the program through me and what “we” are doing because the students and staff at my high school think they are helping too. I am humbled by this. Most teachers and students openly welcome a guide dog into the classroom. Among other things, it has created a discussion and awareness of the blind. I am thankful that this has had such an affect in my school and with my friends.
Beyond being a puppy raiser, my experience as an intern in San Rafael was a milestone for me. Stepping into an administrative role and living far from my home during part of the summer was an experience that I will never forget. People in a work setting depended on me and I depended on them. After work, I needed to be self-sufficient and resourceful. I had freedom, but also responsibility, and it felt good to be part of something like that even for a short time to get a feel for the professional world.
I think I have found a piece of myself through Guide Dogs for the Blind that I was not sure existed. People tell me “I have come out of my shell.” They credit Guide Dogs for the Blind for this and so do I. I feel more confident, more conscientious, and more in tune with what is going on with people around me because of my work in the program. I have had a chance to lead, to follow, to be on a team, to speak publicly, fundraise, put on parties and participate in many other activities that have helped me view the world from different angles and learn from each. I am grateful for this. From my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind I have learned about how beautiful it is to be unique. I have learned that it is okay to step out of my comfort zone and try something I might not think I can do or that my peers are not doing. I have learned that blindness or any handicap for that matter is a point of view. I learned it is not about what you cannot do, but what you can do that counts. I learned how vital it is to give in order to receive. I have learned, in spite of what your challenges are, you need to continue to move forward. I learned the value of hard work and making a commitment and sticking with it. I learned through the dogs about being disciplined and consistent. So for all the emotion, work, and the things I did to give, I received much, much more.
Guide Dogs for the Blind has and I hope it will continue to play a role in my life. It has helped to shape who I am today. I want to pursue a career in business, but work in an organization that has a social purpose and some emphasis on helping humanity in some way. And like Guide Dogs for the Blind, it would be wonderful if animals were involved. Although I do not know what that specific career is yet, I feel that my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me this vision of what I would like to do. I enjoy helping people and working with animals. In fact, that is why I chose to get involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind as a puppy raiser in the first place. I simply did not know where the journey would ultimately take me, and in the end I believe it has taken me where I need to be. It has helped me to mature in so many different areas. It has allowed me to give something back that is needed. And it has strengthened my interest in working in organizations who are more like this one.
Jaclyn Bigley is from Fullerton, California and has been raising guide dog puppies for eight years. She is currently raising her sixth puppy, Anna. Jaclyn first got involved with GDB because she wanted to be able to help others with what she loves most, dogs. GDB has impacted her life in way she could have never imagined and she is very grateful for the opportunities it has brought her. In addition to puppy raising, Jaclyn swims, is the co-chairman of the Knights of Columbus Christmas Drive at her church, is involved in student government. Jaclyn will be attending the University of San Diego.