Hundreds of members gather for Kiwanis Day |

Hundreds of members gather for Kiwanis Day

Karl Horeis, Appeal Staff Writer
Aerial Gilbert, left, speaks to the Kiwanis Club of Carson City on Thursday afternoon at the Nugget. Gilbert, who lost her sight in 1988, is now the director of volunteers for Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., in San Rafael, Ca. Sarah Zittel, center, and Sierra Dean, both 13, and Sarah's dog Datan participate in the Guide Dogs for the Blind Puppies in Training program.

Aerial Gilbert was a pediatric nurse at Marin General Hospital in 1988. On March 28 of that year she was headed home when she put in some over-the-counter eye drops for irritated eyes.

The searing pain told her something was wrong. Someone had tampered with the drops, filling the bottle with lye. She has been blind since.

“I was suddenly like a toddler in a 34-year-old body,” she recalled Thursday at the Carson Nugget.

Gilbert was the featured speaker at a luncheon hosted by the Carson City Kiwanis Club. The gathering was partially a celebration of a joint proclamation issued by the Legislature naming April 3 as Kiwanis Day for Nevada. It was also “special guest day” for the club — a chance to bring in potential new members.

Gilbert is now a registered nurse and works as the director of volunteers at Guide Dogs For the Blind Inc. in San Rafael, Calif.

She was introduced by Carson City Kiwanis Club President Dan Nevin.

“Who wasn’t introduced was my better half, Hedda, a female German shepherd guide dog,” she said.

When she lost her sight she felt alone in the darkness, isolated from the world, Gilbert said. That all changed when she was first escorted by Webster, her friend and first guide dog.

“It was like an epiphany for me,” she recalled. “I just felt like, OK, I’m complete again.”

Gilbert now directs 500 volunteers and was chosen to carry the Olympic torch last year for the winter games in Salt Lake City. Her inspirational story attracted Kiwanis members from all over the Silver State.

Lee Jacobsen, president of the Fernley club, drove over with three members.

“We’re here because I’ve read about the speaker and I thought ‘That’s something I definitely want to hear,'” she said. “Also, I’ve always been very impressed by this Carson City club and knew it was special guest day so I wanted to come out and support them.”

Members of the Eagle Valley Middle School Builder’s Club and the University of Nevada, Reno Circle K club also attended. Nevin described them as the middle school and university versions of Kiwanis.

The Eagle Valley Builder’s Club club is putting together care packages to send to troops stationed overseas, according President Taylor Collins, 12, a seventh-grader. At Christmas, they collected 75 coats with the help of their school to be distributed by the Salvation Army.

“It’s great to help people and help the community and stuff like that,” she said.

“That’s what we’re here for,” said Rayna Donoho-King, 13, the club’s secretary.

Also attending from the middle school were seven members of Warren Wish’s Guide Dog club which meets every Tuesday after school. Club members raise puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind — giving them up after 16-18 months.

“I just love the dogs and I really wanted to do it,” said member Kerri Jackson, 12, a seventh grader.

The proclamation of Kiwanis Day was initiated by Sen. Mike McGinnis, R-Central Nevada, a member of the Fallon Kiwanis Club.

“He’s a long time member of Kiwanis,” said Jacobsen.

The resolution went on to be ushered through the Assembly by Carson Kiwanis member Ron Knecht, R-District 40.


Kiwanis International:

Guide Dogs for the Blind: