Couple raising funds, awareness for leader dog program
By David Lias
Debbie and Mark Mansell of La Center, WA, are enjoying the scenery and the hospitality of others during the early stages of their jaunt to ride their motorcycles through all 48 states in 24 days.
They’ve hit the open road not to just get a good look at the scenery along the way. They have a mission – to raise funds and increase awareness for Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Their travels brought them to Vermillion June 19, where they received an evening meal and enjoyed the fellowship of the Vermillion Lions Club at its meeting held at the W.H. Over Museum.
“We’re riding our motorcycles throughout all 48 states in 24 days. We started on Saturday, June 15. We’re on our fifth day, and South Dakota is our 10th state,” Mark said.
If all goes as planned, the Mansells’ journey will end July 8 in Temecula, CA.
The couple told Vermillion Lions Club members about how they became involved in the Leader Dogs for the Blind program, and how these specially-trained canine companions are changing the lives of hundreds of sightless people.
Founded by three Detroit-area Lions Clubs members in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind provides guide dogs to people who are blind and visually impaired to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life.
Each year, over 270 clients attend a 26-day residential training program to be paired with a guide dog.
The Mansells told local Lions of the emotional times they experienced as they witnessed this process unfold at one of the Leader Dogs for the Blind facilities in Rochester Hills, MI.
It is a life-changing event, Mark said, that opens the door to independence, safety and self-worth for many visually impaired people.
“We raise money by selling pledge pins,” Debbie said.
“Clubs and leader dog supporters all across the country are gathering in support, and every penny of it goes to the leader dog program,” Mark said.
Mark is no stranger to raising funds for the leader dog program. Last year he raised more than $100,000 for the nonprofit organization during a 3,500-mile solo bicycle tour from Portland, OR to Portland, ME.
“Giving someone the gift of sight through a leader dog is transformational,” he said. “The freedom to travel independently is life-changing for the clients, as well those who so passionately work to provide these gifts. To us, this work is the perfect combination of service and evidence of a positive difference in the lives of others.”
Mark and Debbie became aware of the leader dog program through their involvement with the La Center Lions Club.
Touring the leader dog facility in Rochester Hills “started us on this very amazing gift of a journey both as Lions and then through our service and getting to know and become ambassadors for leader dogs,” he said.
Debbie said she and Mark were able to witness clients walk with their dogs for the first time at the training facility. “It was amazing,” she said.
More information on the Mansells’ trip can be found at www.leaderdog.org/cyclingforleaderdogs, where online donations are being accepted. Video supporting this story is available for download at: www.leaderdog.org/cyclingforleaderdogs/media.php.