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MC Luncheon Speaker: Leader Dogs for the Blind

Lora Cabarios, director of national personal giving at Leader Dogs for the Blind

Our speakers on February 25 were from Leader Dogs for the Blind of Rochester Hills. Founded 81 years ago, they have served more than 16,000 clients over those years.

People who are blind or visually impaired endure hardships we can barely imagine. Things that were once routine and taken for granted, suddenly become insurmountable hurdles.

That’s where Leader Dogs for the Blind steps in. From white cane training to matching people with a Leader Dog, they provide the tools and training to reintroduce people to a life of independence, confidence and companionship. It’s a way of living that leads to a new perspective on life.

We heard from Lora Cabarios, who described the mission and history of Leader Dogs for the Blind. Founded by members of the Lions Club, Leader Dogs graduated 3 client guide dogs in its first year and now graduates about 200 per year, as well as training about 100 clients in white cane travel. They are completely self-supported and rely on donations for all of their expenses. They serve the entire US and 19 other countries. Their mission is to help the 90% of the blind population that do not travel independently to do so. Lora then introduced Jeff Hawkins and his leader dog Gracie.

Jeff Hawkins and Gracie

Jeff described his journey with juvenile macular degeneration, the disease that ended his 25-year career as an EMS paramedic. As with most other blind people, he has some vision on the periphery, but it is not safe for him to travel without assistance. He first went to Leader Dogs for white cane training and then returned for a leader dog. He described the social isolation that affects most of the visually impaired and how a leader dog can help overcome such isolation.

Jeff showed us how he works with Gracie. On command, she can take him back to his chair, to the door he came in by, or to a fire door that he shows her. If he introduces her to an audience member, she can return to that person on command. She guides him through crowds, across busy streets, and on to airplanes, buses, cars, etc. He explained why it is important for people to avoid distracting Gracie when she is working. When he removes her harness, however, she returns to being a dog and can be petted and played with.

For more information on Leader Dogs, see their website.

SMC Luncheon Speaker: Dr. Roy Wilson, President of Wayne State University

Our luncheon speaker on February 11th was Dr. Roy Wilson, the President of Wayne State University since 2013. Dr. Wilson has had an illustrious career since graduating from Harvard Medical School. He has served was dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for health sciences at Creighton University, president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus and chair of the Board of Directors of University of Colorado Hospital. Prior to joining Wayne State, Dr. Wilson served as deputy director for strategic scientific planning and program coordination at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).Immediately prior to joining NIH, Dr. Wilson chaired the Board of Directors of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and was acting president during part of that time.

Dr. Wilson addressed the history of Wayne State and a number of myths about higher education. Wayne State was founded as a hospital and medical school more than 150 years ago by five doctors returned from the Civil War. Today WSU consists of 13 schools and colleges offering nearly 350 programs to more than 27,000 graduate and undergraduate students. It is one of the top 60 public research universities in the US. Although some think that universities cost taxpayers too much money, Dr. Wilson described how WSU returns far more to the city and state than it receives. More than 75% of its 275,000 graduates remain in Michigan, creating jobs and adding to the economy. It is also a myth that the campus is dangerous. With its own security force, it is one of the safest campuses in the country, and many Midtown business rely on their officers. Since 2009, crime in Midtown has decreased by 59%.

Another myth is that college students today are “snowflakes” who aren’t ready for the real world. Dr. Wilson’s experience is the opposite. He described the WSU Med-Direct program, where students are admitted to both undergraduate school and medical school, with full scholarships and a year abroad. Even with a scholarship, many of them have to get a job to send money to their parents. More than 80% of WSU students work. WSU students also serve others in a variety of programs. Street Medicine Detroit connects medical students with the homeless. Other programs have resulted in 97,000 community service hours provided in the last 10 years by WSU students.

Dr. Wilson critiqued the myth that tenured college professors have a cushy job that requires no work, although he did say that it happens sometimes. Five years ago, WSU started a program to remove tenure from those that were abusing it. Some faculty members did lose tenure, while others decided to resign to avoid embarrassment.

Dr. Wilson addressed criticism of university research which some feel is impractical. He cited basic research projects that have had enormous practical benefits, such as drugs for AIDS and car safety research. Other myths, including that a four-year degree is no longer a good investment given the need for workers in the skilled trades, were rebutted by Dr. Wilson. He also cited Wayne State’s high social mobility index that compares the graduation rate of schools that enroll disadvantaged students. Among US universities, WSU has one of the largest increases in graduation rate over the last six years. Last year, Wayne State won the IEP Talent award from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.

For more information, see the WSU website.

MC Luncheon Speaker: Madeline Bialecki, Director of Gilda’s Club Lake House Location

Our Speaker on January 28 was Madeline Bialecki, who serves as the Director of the Lake House in St Clair Shores, which recently became part of Gilda’s Club of Metro Detroit. The Lake House became a part of Gilda’s Club in April 2019 but still continues its same mission — to provide support, education and wellness activities for those impacted by cancer.