Next Goal, Guide Dog!

Having A Guide Dog Is Something Special For These Three 20-Something Graduates

Being blind was never an obstacle to achieving their goals for recent GDA graduates Adam Ohnstad, Rebecca Mendez and Constantine Greanias. All three were college graduates before they had their guide dogs and already pursuing paths to reach their professional goals and fuel their personal passions. Even though these young adults were independent in many ways, they all knew that having a guide dog would give them greater independence and so much more.

Adam Ohnstad and Hawk

Adam Ohnstad and HawkAdam Ohnstad made a lot of big decisions and commitments last year. At the age of 27, Ohnstad got married and received his first guide dog – all in less than two months. Just 21 days after the wedding, he started his 28 days of class at GDA.

Retinitis pigmentosa was the cause of Ohnstad’s vision loss and, by age 11, he was legally blind.

“I knew I was at the point that I needed a guide dog but I just wasn’t quite ready to admit it and I hadn’t done anything to make it happen,” Ohnstad said. “Then I started thinking ahead a couple of years and what my life would be like and I decided the time was now. I’m finishing my master’s this year and I wanted to be ready for the next chapter. I knew having a guide dog would make that much easier.”

The new team graduated in October 2015.

“The day I met Hawk was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Ohnstad said. “I knew that I was in charge of his life and well-being. Unlike someone who has had children – this is a completely new experience for me. I realized the responsibility for Hawk falls to me and it became real right there.”

Back at home, things returned to normal, and the new guide dog team got into a routine. Although bringing home Hawk to his new wife did not mean “and guide dog makes three”… at least not right way.

“For the first three months that we were home from GDA, it was important that Hawk and I continue bonding, which meant that my wife had to limit her contact with him,” Ohnstad explained. “My wife is an animal-lover, so she was happy when she could start interacting more with Hawk.”

Since graduation, Hawk has been Ohnstad’s officemate and his classmate. Ohnstad has been running a low-income tax clinic on the campus of California State University, Northridge, where he also has been working on an advanced degree. The team will walk across the graduation stage again this May when Ohnstad receives his Master’s of Science in taxation.

But it’s not all work and no play for the team.

“I like having him out of harness and letting him play and just be a dog,but nothing compares to having him guide me,” Ohnstad said. “I started trusting him right away. Without Hawk, I wouldn’t walk to school by myself every day and I would be very hesitant to go somewhere new. With him, I don’t feel so alone.”

Rebecca Mendez and Corra

Rebecca Mendez and Corra“Corra is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” said Rebecca Mendez, who graduated with guide dog Corra in January 2015.

Mendez was born blind, but that has not kept her from accomplishing everything that she has put her mind to. The 22-year-old college graduate is a talented musician and singer-songwriter who sang for her GDA classmates during their 28 days in class.

“People had always asked me if I had ever thought about getting a guide dog. After college, I wanted to be more independent. I was starting to feel like my cane and my blindness were a barrier and felt like something was missing in my life,” Mendez said. “I had a lot of friends but I didn’t like to go out and ask for assistance. I just felt I need to change this and decided it was time to get a guide dog.”

Mendez learned about GDA from her mother’s co-worker, who told her about the program and the person to call at the school for more information.

“Let me tell you, GDA was the first and only place I looked. Something just felt right. I took a tour and could picture myself there,” Mendez said.

In January 2015, three days after arriving at GDA for class, she met Corra for the first time.

“The trainer came into my room with her and there’s this beautiful dog and I’m holding her leash,” Mendez said. “She came right to me and she put her head on my lap from the very start. It was then that I realized Corra was going to need me as much as I needed her. When I shared my revelation with my mother, she said, ‘Welcome to parenthood.’ As Corra’s ‘mom’, I had a responsibility to someone other than myself, and that was a new feeling.”

Mendez said that the first time she took the harness in her hand “it was like magic.”

“I felt normal again. With a cane I felt like I stood out. With a guide dog I stand out but in a different way,” said Mendez. “I’m not hesitant to go and talk to people or ask for assistance. I feel like I can do everything that everyone else can do.”

Mendez is currently finishing a studio album, and Corra is always in the audience.

“I live for music, and Corra knows that. She is a music dog,” said Mendez, whose ambition it is to have a career in music. “I’m a singer and a songwriter. I’m self-taught on the piano and I have written some instrumentals. I also sing in choirs.”

When they are not in the studio, the team enjoys taking walks around the park and doing everyday errands, like going to the bank, shopping and buying things for Corra. All the things Mendez says she couldn’t do without her guide dog.

They also like to get away to the family vacation home in the local mountains where Corra encountered snow for the first time.

“She loves to play in the snow and roll around it. It makes her so happy and that makes me happy,” Mendez said. “She gives me so much. The continual companionship and unconditional love I get from Corra is so special. I love the bond that we have. I couldn’t be happier.”

Constantine Greanias and Gem

Constantinen and GemIt was exactly one month and nine days following his graduation from the University of Southern California’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies that 22-year-old Constantine Greanias found himself back in class.

Greanias, who has been legally blind since birth, began his 28 days of class at GDA in June 2015. When he met his guide dog Gem for the first time, he knew right away why the trainers had paired the two of them.

“Her energy level, speed, intelligence and ability to learn new things makes Gem the perfect dog for me,” said Greanias, who is always busy doing something – whether it’s working on a new start-up company, playing, composing and producing music, or socializing with friends.

“I was active in college. I was a member of the rowing team and I also played in the band,” Greanias said. “In both cases, I was working in a team or unit and I have enough vision that I was able to do both well and with little assistance or additional direction.”

It was outside of his team activities that Greanias was encountering obstacles that he knew wouldn’t be there if he had a guide dog.

“I had trouble finding doors and I started running into things. I couldn’t find my friends in a crowd,” Greanias said. “With Gem, neither of those things is a problem. I’ll introduce her to a friend and later, when I say to find that person, she makes her way through a crowd of people and takes me to him or her.”

Greanias is an entrepreneur through and through. He has had various businesses for the past nine years. Currently, he is working on two new start-ups: One is a record label, and the other promotes disability in the entertainment industry. Gem is right by his side and ready to take on the next adventure.

“It’s very likely that Gem will inspire a new business or a company,” Greanias said. “I already have an idea that I am going to start research on.”

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