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GIrls honored for raising Guide Dogs

by Merrie Leininger

Six Carson Valley girls were honored Monday by News Channel 4 with the Class Act Award for the month of January.

Amy Darouaz, 13, Sharon Hoogestraat, 15, Staci Hoogestraat, 12, Amber Hoogestraat, 10, Elizabeth Janssen, 14, and Jennifer Blankenship, 13, were nominated for the award by Carson City resident Mary Ann Yoshisato.

The girls raise guide dogs for the blind through the 4-H and Yoshisato is legally blind and gets around with the help of Decker, her guide dog.

“These young people and their families are doing the most selfless act of donating their time (24-hours a day) for 12 to 18 months it takes to raise a little puppy so they may someday become a working guide dog for someone who is visually impaired,” Yoshisato wrote in her letter.

The award is usually given to only one student a month, to recognize those students who are making a positive difference.

The girls were not told ahead of time they would be getting the award, though.

The school and the television news channel developed an idea to surprise the girls. They asked them to give a presentation to a 9th grade class about the guide dogs. In the middle of it, however, Renee Phillips interrupted and told the girls and their classmates what they really were there for.

“I was surprised, very surprised. I thought we were just going to tell them about the dogs,” Staci Hoogestraat said.

Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School Principal Charlie Condron said it took some thinking to figure out how to get all the girls together without raising their suspicions. He said 4-H guide dogs have been in the school for six years, and he says the girls “without question” deserve the award.

“It was worth every minute to see the look on their faces. They definitely deserve it. They work hard,” he said.

Staci said she and her sisters are raising Cookie, a 9-month-old golden retriever, their second guide dog.

“I like raising the dogs. It helps me know what it’s like to be a blind person and I get a lot of attention when I take her out. A lot of people ask me about her, so I it helps me not be shy anymore,” Staci said.

The girls were given glass awards with their names engraved on them, in addition to $50 gift certificates to Major Video and T-shirts and balls for the puppies from sponsors Moore Collaborations and Empower U Leadership Training, both in Reno.

Amber Hoogestraat said she expected nothing more from the day than giving their presentation.

“I didn’t know I was going to get all this stuff,” she said.

She said she has enjoyed raising the puppies and meeting Yoshisato, so she has a better idea of who she is helping.

“It’s good because I get to make a difference in a person’s life,” Amber said.

Jenny Blankenship said it is so natural for her to train dogs, that it is what she wants to do for a living.

“It takes a lot of your time. I’ve always liked dogs. I want to be a dog trainer,” she said.

The Hoogestraat’s mother, DeAnne, was the picture of a proud mother as she watched her daughters receive the awards.

“It’s a big commitment in time. They’re doing a great job. Having them all there, it helps,” she said.

Mary Ann Yoshisato has had her guide dog, Decker for seven years, and both of them attended the presentation. She said she just felt what the girls were doing was so important, they deserved the recognition.

“The dedication they have is wonderful. It’s such an important project. The gift of sight is like giving someone their life back,” she said.

The presentation will be on News Channel 4 at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19.