PROFILES: Le Sueur Lion leads Leader Dogs for the Blind - Le Sueur MN: News

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PROFILES: Le Sueur Lion leads Leader Dogs for the Blind

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Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013 3:52 pm

Le Sueur Lion Shirley Hespenheide started out as a reluctant speaker for Leader Dogs for the Blind. She’s been speaking for the program for 12 years and still going strong.

She started out as 5M2 Lions District co-chairperson of Leader Dogs for the Blind and became state chairperson in July.

“I went into this blinded; but, over 12 years, it’s become my passion,” Hespenheide said.

It’s costly to raise and train leader dogs, but through donations, 14,000 visually impaired people in the world have graduated with their dogs.

How and why did you get involved with the Leader Dogs for the Blind?

When I retired in March of 1995, after working for Green Giant/Pillsbury for 23 years, I needed something to do. Since my husband, who was a member of the Le Sueur Lions, asked me if I would join, I decided it would be good fit.

In 2001, 5M2 Lions District Governor Elvera Trettin asked if I would be interested in speaking about Leader Dogs for the Blind. After doing some research, I thought ‘why not?’ It is a very good cause.

Describe what you do for Leader Dogs for the Blind?

Co-chairperson Joan Blank of Nicollet and I have been speaking about the Leader Dogs for the Blind Program ever since. The region that I spoke in was from approximately Hutchinson angling down to Northfield and from there down to the Iowa border.

Starting on July 1, I have taken a position as Leader Dog Chairperson for the state of Minnesota who will help train fellow Lions to take over the position I had previously held.

By my informing people about the program, there is money that has been raised and this allows a visually impaired person to go the school at no cost to them. The cost of raising and training a leader dog is about $38,000 for each dog, but through donations, the cost to the recipient is nothing, not even cost of airfare.

This organization, established in 1939, is in Rochester Hills, Mich., and was started in 1939 by three Lions who were trying to help a friend who was visually impaired. They could not find a school at that time that could help. They looked around and found 16 acres of land for the cost of $50 per month with a farm house and some out buildings where the dogs could stay.

Since that time, there have been 14,000 visually impaired people graduating with their dogs. Visually impaired from all over the world come there to be trained with a leader dog.

How have you benefited from volunteering?

In doing this, I have gotten over my fear of speaking before a group of people, met some very interesting people and know that three people in my district have benefited by each receiving a leader dog.

I also volunteer at the Snack Bar at the Nursing Home in Le Sueur, do Meals on Wheels, am treasurer for my town home association, treasurer/secretary to the Ladies Nite Out Bowling League and secretary for the Le Sueur Lions. I also enjoy bowling, reading and traveling.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering volunteering their time?

Be sure to become involved in something that you are interested in. Do a little research about the organization and when you start be sure to give it your all, but have fun doing it.

Reach Sports Editor Pat Beck at 931-8566, or follow him on @SPHSportsPat

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