Funding the Future

Hello once again.

I hope that you are all enjoying Guide Dogs Week, and our Guide Dogs Week posts.

Something that I have mentioned often in this blog is the fact that the guide dogs service receives no government funding!  This is a fact which always seems to surprise people when they learn of it.  I know it certainly surprised me when I found out.  As a result the guide dogs service is entirely dependent upon donations from members of the public to ensure that it is able to continue to do its work, providing independence, mobility, self-respect and hope in the form of highly trained guide dogs, irrespective of peoples financial status.

There are many ways to support Guide Dogs, and todays post will look at the ways in which Commando and I have tried to do our part to bring in funds.  As I have said before, I as a guide dog owner am under no obligation to become involved in any activities with Guide Dogs.  But knowing first hand just how much difference my own wonderful guide dog makes to my life I find it of vital importance to ensure that funds can be raised to ensure that Guide Dogs continues to be there for those who need them both now and in the future.  Since Guide Dogs commits to provide guide dogs to those of us who are already guide dog owners for as long as we need them I feel that giving a little of my time and talents is the least I can do in return.  Naturally, in keeping with our established theme of such posts, we will of course look at 9 such ways.

cute little dog that never needs feeding or walking and that won’t make a mess but will make a difference…

I’m sure many people will be familiar with the Guide Dogs collection box.  That oh so cute doggy that sits atop many shop counters, eagerly waiting for that little bit of loose change. 

One of the first ways I was able to start raising funds for Guide Dogs after being partnered with Commando was through the placing of one of these boxes in our local bakery.  Commando was doing his usual Mr charming doggy on the staff in the shop, and I was brimming with pride at having made it to the bakery without another person’s assistance, and it all just seemed to fall into place.  There I was standing there, with Commando soaking up the adoration of the staff and I thought to myself ‘well why not just ask?’  So ask I did, and the staff were kind enough to agree.

Since then I have managed to place a number of other boxes in varying locations, and although some were only temporary like the boxes placed throughout Sunderland College during Guide Dogs Week 20 12 and 2013, others have found permanent homes, and regularly bring in the pennies, to be turned into pounds…  For which I am very grateful to both the businesses which have been kind enough to take in a Guide Dogs collection box, but also to those kind people who have put coins into these boxes.  Every single penny counts…

Puppy love…

My first encounter with Guide Dogs fund raising, prior to being matched with Commando aside from the collection boxes, which I had fed with loose change on many occasions, was the sponsor a puppy scheme.  I remember seeing a television advert for it, and being quite surprised, as I’d never heard of such a thing for Guide Dogs in the past. 

Not long after that, I attended the guide dog display event, and soon after that I decided to sponsor a puppy.  I contacted Guide Dogs and was taken through the current three puppies who were eagerly gathering sponsors at that time.  In the end I chose a lovely Yellow one, who went by the name of Unity.  I’ll be honest here friends, it was more the name than the colour which won the day.  Soon after I began receiving my pupdates, telling me all about Unities progress, all of which were very interesting reads.  I even received a pupdate via e-mail whilst I was training with Commando up in Edinburgh, and not long after I qualified with Commando, I found out that Unity too had qualified.

Now for those of you who have become avid fans of This Mornings guide dog puppy Clover and may recall seeing a guide dog called Unity on the show recently, and may be wondering to yourselves ‘is that the same Unity?’  Well friends the answer is yes,!  The lovely guide dog with the Pink bow was the same Unity I had the pleasure to sponsor.  It just so happened that I’d heard about Unities appearance on the program, and had the television on in time to catch that part of the program.  When Commando spotted Unity I’m told that his ears pricked up and he immediately wandered over to the television for a better look!

Since Unity I have continued to sponsor guide dog puppies and have always enjoyed hearing about their journey from cute bundle of fir to fully trained life changing guide dog.  Knowing first hand just how much of a difference they will one day make to the life of someone who needs them.  I am pleased to say that Commando and I have also been able to encourage others to undertake puppy sponsorship themselves, at both College and University.  It’s only round about a pound per week, and you not only get to hear all about puppy’s adventures, some lovely pictures and a certificate, but you also get the warm feeling that comes with knowing your helping to make a real difference in someone’s life.  Seems like good value to me.

Luck of the draw…

Luck, fate, whatever you want to call it.  It can be a funny thing.  For example, I believe there were one or two people who were offered a chance to be matched with Commando before the call came to me.  How fortunate I am that for whatever reason these people could not undertake training at that particular time.

What better example of such things in action than raffles and lotteries and such.  Another fund raising tool of Guide Dogs is their quarterly raffle, with prizes including cars, cash and hampers.  I had started selling raffle tickets for Guide Dogs not long after I began my puppy sponsorship.  In fact I distinctly recall, one day whilst out with my Mobility Officer during my pre guide dog training, hearing my phone ring.  Since I was using the cane at the time there was no way I was going to stop to answer it at that particular moment, figuring that if it was important then whoever it was would call back.  Which in fact they did, about 10 minutes later as my instructor and I were standing still.  I answered this time to discover that it was my Mum calling to tell me that in the space of less than half an hour she had managed to sell an entire book of tickets!  Needless to say I was delighted by this, and thought that perhaps it would be an unbeatable record for me with regards to selling tickets.  As it turns out I was wrong, as one day whilst selling tickets at University, one of the lecturers, a firm friend of Commando’s, purchased an entire book there and then!  I remember thinking to myself after being matched with Commando, just how much easier it seemed to be to sell these tickets when I had Commando at my side.  I can only conclude that on some level, my boy’s a natural born salesman…

Baking a difference…

No one, dear readers, was more surprised than me when I discovered that I appeared to have a talent for baking!  It started many years ago, at school when I found that I would have far better luck making sweet things than I did with savouries.  Later I started making cookies, moved onto cakes, and the rest is history…

I therefore was delighted when I realized that I could put this skill to use to help bring in funds for Guide Dogs.  Over recent years I have helped to furnish many a cake stall at various events held by the Newcastle Mobility Team.  Including their sensory challenge event last year, and this year on October 10th.  As well as Family Fun Days, and this year I stocked a stall single handed at the teams Blind Drive event.

It really is the ultimate win win win scenario.  I get to bake.  Guide Dogs gets to sell the produce, and the buyers get yummy cakes to enjoy, knowing that they’ve also given to a good cause.  What could be better…

The drive to make a difference…

For the past 10 years the Newcastle Mobility Team has held a Blind Drive event.  As the name suggests, the event gives everyone, sighted or not, driver or not, the chance to get behind the wheel of a car, and take it for a spin around the Nisan test track in Washington.

I had heard of this event, but had no idea that it had been going for 10 years!  When I heard about it in 2014, and found out that one of the friends I had made during my volunteering was going to be participating I eventually decided to give it a go.  The event was scheduled for a time after my HND course had finished so I thought that to celebrate I would try my hand at this driving lark to see what all the fuss was about.  Of course, I do drive my own high performance, streamline, highly responsive sleek and shiny lab/retriever on a daily basis, and unlike a car, he becomes more valuable to me every day.  But I thought it would be fun to give it a go, and of course raise funds at the same time.  So both last year, and this, I have put my name down, along with my accelerator foot…

The experience proved very enjoyable on both occasions.  Although I’m told that Commando was not best pleased to have been left behind as I set off in the car.  Naturally as far as he’s concerned wherever I go then he goes, and he’s not best pleased when that isn’t the case…  But I was soon back with him, having not only an idea of what it’s like to sit behind the wheel but also a respect for those who do it every day.  Although, that said I wonder how well they could do were they to take the challenge of walking blind folded with a guide dog.  For anyone who may be wondering what that would be like, you can find out at the Newcastle Mobility Teams Sensory Challenge event from 11 until 3 on the 10th October at the teams office…

But as well as the chance to drive a car, I also had the chance to go around the track in a high performance rally car, and let me tell you all, those things really move.  All in all the entire experience is very enjoyable, and I can understand why there are many people who come back year after year to give it a go, often in the hopes of beating the speed and time they clocked up the previous year.

A world without…

In January of this year I decided to accept the challenge presented by the ‘Give it up for Guide Dogs’  fund raiser.  Here we are encouraged to give something up for an entire month, and donate what we would have spent on that to Guide Dogs.

Honestly dear readers, I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided it would be a good idea to give up coffee for an entire month.  But once I had the idea in my head, and had decided to set myself the challenge there was no going back.  So for an entire month I had to avoid coffee, both at home and in University.  Now, I should say here that it could have been far worse.  Fortunately I had a couple of weeks away from University, removing both the strong temptation that would come from smelling the coffee in the buildings where I would be working, as well as the actual feeling of a need for the caffeine hit from a nice mid-morning or afternoon Latte that had quickly become a regular part of my academic days.  But it wasn’t all plane sailing, as I found when I returned to University for the latter part of the month, after having successfully battled the desire to have a nice coffee at home.

But I just kept asking myself ‘what would life be like without Commando?’  Considering that question easily helped me gain not only the sense of perspective needed, but also the will power, and I was able to successfully manage a January without caffeine.  Of course I promptly partook of a nice cup of coffee on the first day of the new month, and enjoyed it all the more for knowing I’d raised some money for Guide Dogs through savings made on buying coffee.  I was actually quite surprised by just how much I had started to spend on coffee over a month!  Not long after that though I received an extra donation from someone who worked with me at University who knew first-hand how much coffee I consumed whilst there, and who was rather impressed with what I had managed.

Speak and you shall find…

As a Volunteer Speaker for Guide Dogs I have undertaken a number of speaking engagements since completing the speaker training.  I have always found this task to be extremely rewarding on many levels, and it has always served to remind me just how lucky I am to have Commando in my life.

To have an audience sitting paying close attention, genuinely interested in what you have to say is quite something.  To then have the chance to answer their questions and hopefully leave the event with an audience far better informed is also quite an achievement.  These things are more than reward enough for what we, as speakers, do.  But sometimes we also leave with something more tangible.  Although any organisation who requests a speaker is under absolutely no obligation to make any kind of donation to Guide Dogs, I have left many events with donations, be that people putting money into a collection box that was mainly there as a prop to show what they looked like and why we used them, to organisations actually handing over cash or a check.

Such action always surprises me.  As a Speaker, I feel my main role is to tell my story and show what a positive difference Commando has made, all whilst attempting to raise awareness of Guide Dogs and ultimately leaving people better informed than before I started talking.  I’m sure it’s always of benefit to my talks to have Commando there with me, looking his normal cute and charming self, even in some cases helping people to overcome their fear of dogs because they just couldn’t resist the chance to say hello to the cute calm doggy who had just sat there for who knows how long as his human just rambled on…

Another thing that always surprises and humbles me in my role as a speaker is when people have been moved to take action as a result of what they have heard during my talk.

This has included people embarking on their own fund raising endeavours for Guide Dogs.  Be that sponsoring puppies or holding bring and buy events. But has also included none financial action such as people actively seeking signatures for the Guide Dogs Talking Buses petition.

To know that people have left one of my talks actually thinking about ways to get involved, to make their own positive contribution to the work of Guide Dogs be that financially or none financially, and have then acted on these thoughts, is truly heart-warming.

A room full of puppies helps the stress levels go down…

Name a puppy, as the name suggests is a way of allowing people to choose the name of a guide dog puppy.  In return for a certain level of donation, it is possible to pick the name of a guide dog who will change someone’s life.  As regular readers will know Commando himself is one such named puppy, with his most excellent and unique name having come from the Royal Marines in Scotland.

Such opportunities are often offered to education institutions.  Earlier in the year, as a thank you for their fund raising activities Commando and I attended a Puppy Room at Newcastle University.  This proved to be a very interesting day mainly because I wasn’t entirely sure how much attention Commando would attract in a room full of cute younger models.  But in the end he proved to be quite the hit.

Whereas the puppies were just there for 2 hour slots I was quite sure that Commando could last the entire day.  He is after all no stranger to University life.  In the end though I should have been more concerned about myself lasting the day.  By the end, where Commando was still quite happily soaking up wave after wave of adoration from his circle of admirers I could barely manage to speak, having fielded a large number of, often similar, questions about Commando from each group of people who visited the room.

But border line lost voice aside I thought the day had gone very well.  Many people left the room less stressed than when they entered, and by the end of the day enough had been raised to name that puppy.  Now I think about it, dear readers, I really should try and find out what name they chose.

Fund raising classic…

So, dear readers, we once again find ourselves at the ninth item. 

I am sure many of you will have seen Guide Dogs collection events in your local area, be that on a high street or in a Super market.  Such collections are often manned primarily by volunteers, including guide dog owners and our army of wonderful Puppy Walkers, who have brought their young charges along to see more of the big wide world, and raise funds for Guide Dogs at the same time.

At the time of writing this post I have never actually had an opportunity to take part in any such classic fund raising event.  As new guide dog owners we are not allowed to engage in any such activities with our new guide dogs for some months after qualification.  Although I have always been keen to get involved in this aspect of fund raising various factors, not the least of which has been the time requirements of 3 years of higher education, has meant that I have been unable to get involved.

As part of Guide Dogs Week the Newcastle Mobility Team holds a large scale collection in Newcastle.  Due to both time and speaking commitments during previous Guide Dogs Weeks, not to mention baking commitments, I have been unable to get involved in this large scale event.

However, dear readers, this year is different.  This time I have been able to find the time, and have booked myself a time slot at this collection.  Since I think Commando and my first street collection is something of a momentous occasion I have decided that, even though I doubt I can find a way to incorporate the number 9 into it this event merits a blog post of its very own. 

So keep your eyes peeled folks for the story of how Commando and I do on our first ever classic fund raising collection.  Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, keep your fingers crossed for nice weather…

 

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