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Community Spotlight: Superheroes Behind Southeastern Guide Dogs Celebrated


ST. PETERSBURG – On March 1, 2014, Southeastern Guide Dogs celebrated the superheroes who make our school incredible, and invited our friends to join us for a Celebration Dinner.

“With literally tens of thousands of volunteers, puppy raisers, donors, and graduates whose contributions to our school are simply outstanding, narrowing down our four awards of distinction becomes quite a challenge,” said Titus Herman, Chief Executive Officer, before the event. “But we’re thrilled to recognize four extraordinary individuals whose connection with us is backed by an outstanding level of commitment.”

The four awards include:

Volunteer of the Year: Marge Vita

Puppy Raiser of the Year: Jocelyn and Carl Hargrove

Philanthropist of the Year: Keith G. Hirst

Graduate of the Year: Don Olinger

Volunteer of the Year: Marge Vita (Palmetto, FL)

Volunteer of the Year Marge Vita has volunteered for 15 years, managing our Palmetto campus gift shop. It was under her watch that our new stand-alone campus gift shop opened, and Marge does the purchasing, merchandising, managing the other volunteers, and helping customers. When we add up her gift shop volunteer hours alone, she has contributed 5,713 hours…and that’s not counting her time as a breeder host. She is now hosting her third breeder dog, a spunky yellow lab named Smooch.

Marge previously served as Blake Hospital’s Director of Volunteer Services. When she retired from Blake, we called and invited her to join us. We’re thrilled we made that call, and are proud to honor Marge as our Volunteer of the Year.

Puppy Raiser of the Year: Jocelyn and Carl Hargrove (Paisley, FL)

Jocelyn and Carl Hargrove

Jocelyn and Carl Hargrove have earned our Puppy Raiser of the Year award. In 1988 Jocelyn saw a news piece about Southeastern needing puppy raisers. Together this couple began raising puppies for Southeastern. After about a dozen, Carl asked, “How many are we going to do?” They decided on a goal of 25 puppies.

Now, with 25 years of puppy raising behind them, they are currently their 38th Southeastern Guide Dogs puppy, a golden retriever named Mary. They also volunteer as Area Coordinators and volunteer in schools. Through their involvement with the Order of the Eastern Star, they have garnered much support for our school.

With over 220,000 hours of puppy raising behind them—and who knows how many before them—we couldn’t ask for better superheroes for our school.  Congratulations to our Puppy Raisers of the Year, Carl and Jocelyn Hargrove.

Philanthropist of the Year: Keith G. Hirst (Sarasota, FL)

Our Philanthropist of the Year, Sarasota resident Keith G. Hirst, is a generous man of many talents. He spent 20 years with Booth newspapers as a journalist and a stint in the Army as a public relations officer. What his hobby for personal investing became his vocation, this gentleman became his own boss.

Keith has enjoyed a lifetime love of dogs. A childhood pet, a beloved beagle by the name of Patrick Henry, still holds a special place in his heart.

Keith evaluates decisions based on value; he asks himself, “Will this be a good investment?” And when he evaluated the future of Southeastern Guide Dogs, he believed we were a “growth stock” with a wonderful future.

Because of Keith’s exemplary generosity, we are well on our way to opening our brand new Keith G. Hirst Assessment Center. Our Philanthropist of the Year, Keith G. Hirst, is a friend and a superhero to Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Graduate of the Year: Don Olinger (Estero, FL)

If our next hero was on our sports team, we might have voted him as one of our “Most Improved Players.” Our Graduate of the Year goes to Don Olinger. This superhero lost his vision to Stargardt’s Disease, a progressive condition that left him legally blind since 1998. At his low point in 2011, he ended his career as a minister, left New York City, and moved into an independent living facility where he was 20 years younger than most of the residents. He had lost hope of living a normal life.

When his seven-year-old niece decided to help him get a guide dog, Don did a little research and discovered Southeastern Guide Dogs. Now he has been matched with a black-and-tan Labrador and co-superhero named Ralphie, and the two make quite a team. They’ve moved into a new apartment, and have even traveled to New York City and navigated airplanes, subways, and cabs.

Don is a fine example of someone who wants to pay it forward, and is on track to being one of the top three individual fundraisers for our Sarasota Walkathon. Congratulations to our superhero and Graduate of the Year, Don Olinger.

For more information about Southeastern Guide Dogs, visit www.guidedogs.org.


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