As the ATOU Team arrived at an elementary school in Placer County, we were told there was a girl who was blind, Beth (name changed), in one of the classes. We were also told this child was deathly afraid of dogs.

One of our new speakers is a woman who lost her sight two years ago. Darlene said that after two sightless years, she had mastered life within her home, and was ready to venture out. She eagerly joined us to this school to speak with the students.

Darlene and Beth spoke to the class about the challenging experiences they share.  Beth also demonstrated how to use a mobility cane for her classmates during our activity centers.

As an added bonus, one of Beth’s personal hurdles was overcome. Our volunteer, Mike Penketh, who uses two myoelectric hands, had his service dog, Magy, with him.  Knowing that Beth was terrified of dogs, Mike wondered if he could help her overcome her fear. When they were introduced, Mike asked if Beth would help him. He told her that because he had no hands, there was something he really wanted to do, but could not.  He could not pet his best friend. He could not tell how soft she was. Would Beth help him by petting Magy? Beth agreed. She reached down and touched Magy’s golden fur.

Nervously, she asked, “Is this a dog?”

Mike quickly replied, “Yes. Magy is my service dog. She goes everywhere with me to help me. Is she soft?”

After a pause, Beth replied with a smile, “Really soft!” and she continued to stroke Magy’s head and back.

Mike said, “Thank you for helping me pet my friend.”

A Touch of Understanding has enriched Darlene’s life, allowing her to spend time with upbeat, enthusiastic children. It has introduced Beth to a woman with the same disability and similar challenges. Together they enlightened Beth’s classmates with their experiences and insights. A Touch of Understanding also helped Beth deal with a major fear and gave Mike the satisfaction of helping her.  By “helping” Mike, she took the first step in overcoming her fear of dogs. And her classmates joined in her joy.