By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Northborough – For those who must navigate through life with limited or no vision, the world can be frightening and daunting place. But thanks to a special partnership between the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and Guide Dogs of America, thousands of people have found an independence allowing them to live their lives in a way that they might not have otherwise had.
IAMAW Local Lodge 447, based in Northborough, continued on a tradition of raising funds for Guide Dogs with the 10th annual District 15 Charles W. Foley Memorial Golf Tournament, held Aug. 25 at Juniper Hill Golf Club. The event drew 122 golfers and 12 volunteers and netted $60,000, according to Russell Gittlen, an area director for the union and one of the organizers of the tournament.
The tournament is held annually in memory of Charles Foley, “a union member who spent his life working to better the lives of people of all kind,” Gittlen said.
Charles Foley’s son, James, who is a union representative for IAMAW, has also served as a tournament organizer since its inception 10 years ago.
“This is a wonderful event and would make my Dad so proud,” he said. “The great thing is that is that all parties come out here together – employees and companies whether they are playing or volunteering to help raise funds. Everyone at Juniper Hill has been awesome too.”
It is the local union’s hope, he added, that they will be able to offer assistance to someone from Massachusetts.
“We really encourage people to contact us if they know of someone who might benefit from a guide dog,” he said.
The connection between the nonprofit Guide Dogs of America and IAMAW was formed over 60 years ago, Gittlen said, by Joseph Jones, Sr., a retired member of the IAMAW.
“When Mr. Jones became blind, he considered all his options and decided his mobility needs would best be met by using a guide dog. He applied to all the existing schools, but he was declined because of his “advanced age,”” Gittlen explained. “He was only 57 years old.”
“Mr. Jones was a determined man and “no” was not a word in his vocabulary. He turned to the IAM for help, soliciting assistance from the IAM’s Executive Council. The IAM Executive council conducted extensive research, determined there was a growing need for guide dog services, and therefore endorsed the founding of International Guiding Eyes (IGE) in 1948,” said. “The IAMAW continues to be a generous supporter and staunch advocate of the school’s mission today”.
In 1992, International Guiding Eyes changed its name to Guide Dogs of America. It provides guide dogs and instruction in their use, free of charge, to blind and visually impaired men and women from the United States and Canada. They also provide advocacy services and follow-up free of charge.
Dale Hartford is the organization’s president and director. He flew in from its headquarters in Soma, Calif., to attend the Northborough tournament.
“This group is amazing, they do so much for us,” he said. “We do not receive any state or federal funding, so fundraisers like this are a big part of our operating budget.”
Guide Dogs have helped visually impaired people in all 50 states and throughout Canada, he noted.
“Our goal is to place 50-60 dogs a year,” he said.
In addition to the annual golf tournament, the local union and partnering companies also hold a “Hawgs for Dogs” motorcycle run each year.
“Our fundraising has grown each year thanks to the generosity of the union members and our partnering companies. Last year we raised $50,000 from our golf tournament and motorcycle run,” Gittlen noted. “To date our district, which is comprised of New England and New York, has raised a collective $1.7 million for the Guide Dogs over the past ten years.”
For more information on Guide Dogs, visit http://www.guidedogsofamerica.org/1/.
To contact Gittlen call 508.351.6549 or email [email protected].