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Guide Dogs of the Desert hosts virtual ceremony for first graduating class since Covid-19 pandemic

Guide Dogs of the Desert, a Coachella Valley-based accredited guide dog school, will host a virtual ceremony for the first graduating class since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, with students gathering on Zoom from as far away as Florida and New Jersey.

“We’re excited for these students to go forward into the world, Guide Dog harness in hand, with power and purpose,” said Gary Jeandron, chairman of the board for Guide Dogs of the Desert. “And when they do, we know it’s with the strength they’ve proven to have and the foundation they’ve already built.”

The pandemic has made it a challenge to raise and train Guide Dogs and educate their handlers — but this is an organization dedicated to overcoming obstacles.

For instance, after students are paired with their Guide Dogs, they usually live in student housing at the education campus in Whitewater, where they learn how to work with their new canine partner. However, out of an abundance of caution for the safety of students and staff, the campus has been closed. Instead, lessons were conducted in-home, with trainers flying all over the country to work with students individually.

Also Guide Dogs-in-training are typically brought to busy places like airports and malls to put their instruction into practice. That couldn’t happen during lockdown, as once-crowded places were left empty.

There has not been a public graduation at Guide Dogs of the Desert since early 2020, making this event a real cause for celebration. Though graduation is traditionally held in person, this year’s festivities pivoted to an online format.

“Long after Covid recedes, there will still be challenges, and there will be more bumpy roads ahead. But we are thrilled to acknowledge how far the students have already come,” Jeandron said.

Executive Director Dr. Jonathan Lorenzo Yorba said, “I feel tremendously privileged to join in this momentous and joyful graduation celebration. I salute and thank the students for their hard work and dedication. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the staff and volunteers locally and nationally who raised, cared for, and trained the students’ remarkable Guide Dog companions. And I greatly appreciate the donors and sponsors who make this important and life-changing work possible.”

Guide Dogs of the Desert is an accredited guide dog school and wellness center on an 8-acre campus in the greater Palm Springs area. The organization has been helping visually impaired students gain independence and companionship through Guide Dogs for almost 50 years.

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