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InterView Magazine

Jackie Johnson

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light"
                                Helen Keller
Volunteering is in her blood. Guide dogs are in her heart.
There are many ways to embrace life head on, help others and make a real difference in the world. Jackie Johnson has found many of them through her lifelong commitment to giving back and, most especially, her ongoing passion for the guide dog program at Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD). 

“I’ve always loved dogs, volunteering and helping people,” says Johnson, and while working as an elementary school teaching assistant, the teacher invited her to a guide dog graduation. After the children learned about guide dogs and giving back to others, Johnson engaged the class in a recycling program that helped purchase much-needed items for the GDD kennels.
“Jackie is truly a blessing and a tremendous asset to our program,” says Kim Laidlaw, Deputy Executive of Marketing and Public Relations, Guide Dogs of the Desert. “She’s bubbly, willing and eager to discuss our cause with everyone and—since 1999— has been very active in her role as an ambassador.”  

Laidlaw describes Johnson as “tirelessly recruiting” both volunteers and puppy raisers. “When Jackie gets behind a cause and believes in something, she jumps in with both feet,” says Laidlaw. “She has truly wrapped her arms around our organization and we are so grateful for her involvement, which ultimately translates to life-changing opportunities for the blind.”

Ambassador Extraordinaire
Johnson and Miss Gwen, a retired, black-Labrador, guide dog she adopted four years ago, educate the public about the guide dog program, which provides the miracle of independence to the visually impaired community at no cost. Johnson talks with various groups wherever she goes, encouraging them to take advantage of free GDD presentations. She speaks at venues as close as a neighborhood barbecue and as far away as Columbus, Ohio. Johnson is also active in the Redlands, Banning and Beaumont Chambers of Commerce representing GDD in the community.

Inspired by the enthusiasm of Johnson’s guide dog presentation at an Orange County church, Toyota donated a new Prius and even a stylish car wrap that promotes GDD. “I had expressed a wish for a hybrid car to use in traffic training,” says Johnson. “Some-one in the congregation had a son who worked for Motor Trend magazine, where someone there had a connection with Toyota Motor Sales.”

Her passionate commitment to guide dogs also includes sponsoring four dogs, which, as a puppy raiser involves donating $1,500 to name a guide dog. Three dogs that Johnson named—Spirit, Nugget and Meme—are all in training to provide loving companionship, increased freedom and safetyfor the blind. She also recently adopted Bella, a two-and-a half year old black Labrador puppy, who will one day be a breeder for Guide Dogs of the Desert.

Career & Life Change
Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Johnson moved to California in 1959. A single parent, she met her second husband, Pomona Police Sergeant David A. Johnson, while employed by the Pomona Municipal Court. “I’d received a parking citation for parking in the employees-only parking lot even though I had the proper sticker,” she says. “So I went next door to the Police Department to see the Sergeant about the parking ticket that was a mistake.” She saw him again while lunching with some courthouse employees. “One of the gals knew the Sergeant, who was sitting by himself, so she invited him to join our table and the rest is history,” she says. The two were married New Year’s Day in Big Sur and Johnson moved to the Sergeant’s home in Running Springs. “We were a blended family,” says Johnson, explaining that she had one child and he had two grown
children. Johnson’s daughter, Jennifer and son-in-law, Jason, live in Mentone with her grandchildren, Hailey and Amber.

After almost 28 years the Sergeant retired in 1999 while Johnson was working as a teaching assistant at Rim of the World High School. “The school had a CHP Explorer program and,  since I knew their advisor, I asked if he could use my retired law enforcement spouse in their program,” Johnson explains. As a result, David became a valued volunteer for the program’s teens, and his experience in law enforcement proved to be a vital resource.

However, Johnson’s life changed radically within a span of two-years. In 2002
David passed away suddenly and in 2004 she retired. Jackie first began volunteering at the Redlands Police Department Citizen Volunteer Academy. She then became involved with GDD and the Calimesa Breakfast Lions Club. Eventually, she moved to Cherry Valley to be closer and more available to her passion, GDD.  Eventually she also moved her 87-year-old mother (also an Inter Valley Health Plan member) to the San Gorgonio Pass area because she is her mother's sole caregiver.

Staying Active
Johnson and Miss Gwen make weekly visits to The Mourning Star Center (part of the San Gorgonio hospice), a program for children and families who have suffered the death of a loved one. “Miss Gwen is also trained as a Certified Pet Therapy Dog,” says Johnson. “Children often aren’t comfortable talking in a
group about their loss. Miss Gwen wins them over with her calm demeanor and wagging tail. Her eyes that can read your soul and her big Lab kiss are irresistible.”

“Every day is an adventure,” adds Johnson. “I can’t wait to get up in the morning to find out what’s in store for me. And I feel so blessed to work with the employees and volunteers at Guide Dogs of the Desert and Hospice, making each day better for someone who is less fortunate. Life just doesn’t get any better.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “To give of one’s self… to leave the world a
bit better…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—that is to have succeeded.” It’s safe to say that Jackie Johnson is exceedingly successful.
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