February 26, 2010 • Posted in Beth Finke, blindness, Braille, Hanni, questions kids ask, Uncategorized, visiting schools by

We make our exit from a Fairview classroom--I'm told at least one in the audience couldn't resist at least trying to pet Hanni.

My plan for this week was to write a blog post about the trip Hanni and I made to Fairview Elementary School last Monday, but wouldn’t you know it. I got scooped! A story in the local Trib describes our trip to Mt. Prospect, Il far better than I ever could. Aside from two teeny-tiny numerical errors (Hanni and I have been together eight-and-a-half years now, and our walk to the train station in Chicago is only 12 blocks) the story is perfect!

On Monday, February 22 local author Beth Finke visited with grades 1,2, and 3 at Fairview Elementary School in Mt. Prospect. Because Beth is blind, she was accompanied by a furry, four-legged friend. Hanni, a ten year-old golden retriever/yellow lab mix, has been Beth’s guide dog for the past seven years.
After navigating a 16 block walk from their apartment in Printer’s Row to the Ogilvie Train Station, Hanni and Beth were picked up at the Mt. Prospect
station and headed to Fairview where Hanni made herself comfortable on the Library Resource Center rug. The students were enthralled with the adorable
dog, but Beth made sure they understood that when a guide dog is wearing a harness, it is working, which means no petting or feeding from anyone other than the owner. Guide dogs are performing important work and cannot be distracted while in the midst of their duties. To demonstrate Hanni’s remarkable skills, Beth had Hanni lead her through the crowded LRC to the door and into the hallway by uttering just a few commands. Once the harness came off, however, Hanni became a playful pet, rolling on her back for a belly rub.

Told through Hanni’s eyes, Beth’s award-winning children’s book “Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound” illustrates the special relationship she shares with her trusted canine friend. LRC Director Laurie Oh read the book to all classes to prepare the students for this visit. Beth brought a special braille version of the book to Fairview and showed the kids how she reads with her fingers, a skill she is still learning. Beth lost her sight at age 26 from diabetic retinopathy. Beth had to learn a new way of living and her positive attitude has no doubt helped. She developed lots of little tricks like putting safety pins on all her black shirts or using rubber bands to distinguish between lotion and shampoo. When asked about not being able to see people and what they look like, she said she can tell a person’s beauty by the kindness he or she displays.

The story gives credit to Betsy Griebenow, the kind and beautiful volunteer who arranged our visit and picked Hanni and me up at the Mt. Prospect train station. It ends with a quote from April Jordan, Fairview’s principal, saying how much the kids benefit from cultural arts programs and meeting authors.

The Trib writer didn’t have column space to list all the fun questions the Fairview kids asked after my presentation, so here’s my favorite: “How do you know if you picked a four-leaf clover?”

I must have picked one that morning without knowing it. Hanni and I sure were lucky to spend our snowy Monday safe and warm with that beautiful bunch at Fairview.

Bob On February 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

So how *would* you know if you picked a four-leaf clover, then?

Beth Finke, blog moderator On February 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

I had to think for a second before answering that one. I finally admitted that I’d be afraid to touch the clover to count the leaves for fear I’d tear off the lucky fourth one! Finally told her I would probably pick lots and lots of clovers and then have someone who can see sort through them to see if I’d lucked out and found one with four leaves…

Beth On February 27, 2010 at 9:45 am

Thanks for the sweet comment. I’m afraid I might have gone a little too far with that beauty concept, though, when I answered the first-grader who asked how I know what people look like. After telling her I judge people by what they say, and what they do, I went on to say that nowadays I think of people as swatches of color. “You know, like impressionist paintings,” I said. “Like the ones you see in the Art Institute in Chicago.”
I told the kids they were so bright and smart and energetic, to me they were all the color yellow. “No!” they chorused. “We’re white!” One girl interrupted and said “Beige!” Another kid jumped in and said “We’re flesh!” I tried to explain that I wasn’t thinking of their *skin* colors. “She means your personalities!” a teacher explained. The kids seemed a little dumbstruck.
Maybe best to leave the impressionistic painting concept for older kids?!

Marilee On February 27, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Great Trib article and another great Q&A!

Beth Finke, blog moderator On February 27, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Oh, you are so right about the q&a, there is never enough room in my blog posts to talk about all the great questions! Here’s another couple of quips: A girl at Fairview asked me how I drive — lots of kids ask me this, I find it flattering. I’ve just finished explaining to them how I write, how I read, how I get on trains and planes with Hanni. They just assume I can drive, too. After I explained that we chose to live right in the heart of downtown Chicago because it is so close to all the bus routes, the el, commuter trains and so on, a first-grade boy raised his hand. “You know,” he said, his voice full of confidence. “You oughta live in New York. They have a *lot* more buses and subways there than in Chicago.”
I laughed. “You are right!” I told him, explaining that the mere *thought* of living in New York City used to scare me. Nowadays I think it might be fun!

Alexis and Julia On February 28, 2010 at 7:21 am

I love reading about your school visits. Kids ask the most interesting questions! How is Hanni now that she’s getting up there in years? Give her a pat from Julia and me please.

bethfinke On February 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Alexis, how sweet of you to think of Hanni in her, ahem, Golden years! She turned 10 this month, and I was scheduled to train with a new dog at the Seeing Eye in April but postponed, Hanni has slowed down but she still enjoys her job. I’m scheduled to return to the Seeing Eye in November now, we’ll see what happens! Hope all is going well for you, give Julia a scratch for us —

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