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Blind Author Beth Finke visits Ss. Cyril & Methodius School in Deer Park

SSCM students pose with Beth Finke and Whitney, the working dog
SSCM students pose with Beth Finke and Whitney, the working dog
Students at Saints Cyril and Methodius (SSCM) School in Deer Park were treated to a unique visit from award-winning author Beth Finke and her seeing-eye dog, Whitney.  Mrs. Finke is not only a winner of the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, she is also a teacher, a journalist, an NPR commentator, and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant – and it just so happens that she is also blind.  As part of the enrichment programs at SSCM, the school coordinated with Blue Marlin Publications to invite the renowned author in for a morning with students at SSCM.

From the minute Mrs. Finke and her canine companion, Whitney, entered the auditorium, the youngsters were all ears.  They sat rapt as Mrs. Finke described what life was like relying on a furry friend to help guide her through her day, while illustrating just how active and independent a blind person can be.  With the same delightful detail found in her most recent work, a children’s book called Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound¸ the writer shared stories of their adventures and described the importance of respecting a working dog and allowing him to focus on his job to the best of his ability.  The enthusiastic students of SSCM each had questions burning in their minds and the only thing Mrs. Finke may have missed out on was not being able to enjoy seeing the number of hands that flew into the air when she announced it was time for some Q & A.

One student wanted to know if she had written her book in braille and if the publisher then translated it.  Mrs. Finke told the students all about the special talking computer she uses to read, write, and do her research on the internet.  Another student asked about how a blind person gets a dog and Mrs. Finke told them all about wonderful non-profit organizations, such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind in upstate New York and The Seeing Eye in New Jersey, where she’d been paired up with her former guide dog, Hanni.  The most poignant question came a short way into the Q & A session from a small girl in her neatly pressed SSCM uniform, “What does it feel like to be blind?”  Mrs. Finke’s response moved the group, young and old.  “Wow, what a good question…I’m not sad about it, which you might think,” she’d said.  Having battled juvenile diabetes and going blind by the age of twenty-six, she’d told the students that she felt she’s learned such a great deal on her journey that she never would have, if this had not been her path.   She went on to describe how it can be frustrating at times, because it just takes longer to do certain things and she has to remind herself to slow down and take her time to avoid fumbling…it seemed a good lesson for us all to consider in our fast-paced day to day lives, sighted or not.

Her old friend, Hanni is now retired from guide dog work and living happily with her retirement family, getting chubby from treats and living the good life.  So, hard-working Whitney, a four-year old Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, has been by Beth Finke’s side for about two years now.  The pair move and function as one and as the author speaks to the group of children in SSCM’s auditorium, her faithful friend looks up at her in admiration, as if hanging on every word.  Mrs. Finke’s demonstration of how Whitney works to guide her to the nearest exit brings nearly every student quietly to their feet as they lean forward and crane their necks to watch the pair make their way down the hall and back, stepping easily in stride with one another.  Before Mrs. Finke leaves the group for the day, she is kind enough to offer high praise to the students of SSCM, saying that children often have a very difficult time refraining from petting or talking directly to a guide dog, but she can tell how disciplined and respectful her new friends at SSCM are, for which both she and Whitney are graciously thankful.  Equally thankful for the visit, the children at SSCM are working on an appropriate message of thanks to send along to Mrs. Finke to express their gratitude for her insightful and interesting visit.

SSCM is a Catholic elementary school located in Deer Park, NY – www.sscmweb.org.  Join us for our Open House, focused on Nursery through 1st Grade, on Wednesday, March 26th from 3pm - 6pm.  For more information on The Seeing Eye, visit www.seeingeye.org and to learn more about Beth Finke and her amazing work, visit her online at www.bethfinke.com or see her blog on her visit to SSCM here:  http://bethfinke.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/what-does-it-feel-like-to-be-blind/.

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