It was just over 25 years ago, on the first night of Chanukah, that Noach Braun, a young Israeli who had just finished his three years of national service in the paratroop regiment of the IDF, sat in the lounge of Norman Leventhal, a Jewish businessman and philanthropist, in Philadelphia.
Noach was on a mission. He had been on this mission ever since leaving the army and discovering that there was no way for a blind Israeli to receive a trained guide dog in Israel.
Rather, they had to pass a rigorous English language proficiency test, travel to either America or the UK and then bring their English-trained dog back to Israel, to not only work but also acclimatise to the Israeli way of working and living. Not an easy journey.
More than 25 years later and we can now say that the first part of Noach’s mission and dream has come true. The Israel Guide Dog Centre for the Blind is established in a wonderful location, just south of Tel Aviv, next to the moshav of Beit Oved.
In April this year, it will officially open its new puppy-development and training campus, which will herald the next big chapter of Noach’s dream.
This new state-of-the-art campus, with six modern mother-and-puppy whelping suites, expanded training kennels, training grounds and additional facilities, will enable the centre to produce even more quality guide dogs for even more waiting blind and visually-impaired Israelis.
More than 80 per cent of the centre’s budget comes from charitable income — and its new facilities need that continued support from the charity’s wonderful and dedicated donors, just as much.
The fundraising department has gone through major changes and, here in the UK, the charity has been undergoing a massive upgrade and improvement to its systems and procedures.
Towards the end of 2016, it invested heavily in technology, to provide professional and exemplary donor- management services. It undertook a procurement exercise to find the best “fit for service” donor-management database and invested in a system called DonorPerfect. This is a cloud-based system with excellent database security and it allows the charity to work in a more efficient manner.
Since implementing Donor Perfect, the organisation has not only increased donations but, more importantly, managed to engage with donors in a way it never imagined, with a more personalised service.
Last year also saw the launch of a new website, as well as the updating of all the charity’s social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Insta-gram. This year will see the launch of the Sponsor a Puppy programme, designed to enable people to donate to, support and follow a future guide dog, as it works its way from puppy to trained guide dog, over a structured two-year process.
Blind people use technology all the time, to assist their independence, with items such as talking watches and voice-activated commands on mobile phones and computers.
There is a small research and development department at the guide dog centre which, together with an expert psychologist (generously sponsored by a UK donor), is constantly looking at new systems and technologies that can help blind clients in their day-to-day lives.
However, to date, the centre has still not found anything that will replace the wonderful and incredible partnership between a trained guide dog and its blind owner.
Martin Segal is UK executive director of the Israel Guide Dog Centre.
The centre loves visitors, so call to arrange a visit when you are next coming to Israel.
020 8090 3455
Registered charity 1027996