GOing on Adventures with the GO See Foundation
Despite being diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), Cataracts, Chronic Uveitis, and Glaucoma in kindergarten which caused a visual impairment, Allyson led an active lifestyle as a student. She was a cheerleader and worked at McDonalds like a typical high schooler, and began a career in radio and TV where she eventually met her husband. However, after removing her right eye for a prosthetic in 1989, her left eye was affected by glaucoma, an eye condition where the optic nerve is damaged leading to a gradual loss in vision. Even after several partial corneal transplants, Allyson's vision continues to deteriorate to this day. Currently, she has hazy vision and a limited field with objects in close range.
Regardless of her struggles, Allyson's father, Gary Owens (who was often called G.O.), was always a supportive figure that encouraged her to pursue her interests and was enthusiastic about staying engaged with the community. "He was passionate about doing good for the world and he instilled that in me, so I wanted to leave a legacy," says Allyson, which led her to creating the GO See Foundation, named after her father.
Founded in 2016, the GO See Foundation aims to spread awareness about vision loss and blindness, and promote an active and engaging lifestyle for people who are visually impaired or blind by hosting free events and activities. With the help of her friends, Allyson was able to kickstart her dream of helping others: "I got together with my friends from high school and some family friends, and the organization took off from there." So far, the foundation has hosted a number of activities such as tandem kayaking at Morro Bay, CA, hiking at Three Bridges Oak Preserve, and beach yoga sessions. Allyson's favorite experience so far is "tandem kayaking because I love the ocean, but pottery making (in partnership with the Pottery Coast) was also a hit because it was a tactile experience."
Accompanying Allyson in the GO See Foundation's outings is Olga, a black Lab guide dog. "It got to the point where I was really struggling visually but I wanted to stay active," says Allyson. So, she took orientation and mobility classes, where she gained useful skills which allowed her to comfortably navigate independently with a cane. Coincidentally, her instructor introduced Guide Dogs for the Blind as another tool for greater mobility. Allyson eventually applied to Guide Dogs for the Blind, where she was paired with Olga in 2016 at the San Rafael campus. The two have been a dynamic pair since, traveling everywhere independently. "GDB is amazing. As a first time user the support I get is phenomenal." And getting Olga also played a big role for Allyson starting the foundation; The attention Olga gets from others inspired Allyson to educate people about guide dogs and forge relationships with other guide dog users.
During the pandemic, the GO See Foundation has adapted to regular meetings online, as well as hosting a book club for those who are blind or visually impaired. "Being visually challenged can be isolating especially during the pandemic, so this helps people who have the same experiences stay connected." Allyson has also been busy making GO See Foundation apparel, flyers, and even a "GO See" podcast. Fun events and activities are also in the works once the pandemic subsides.
Allyson hopes she can continue growing the GO See Foundation with Olga. "My success is attributed to Olga, GDB, and the puppy raiser community. Their philosophy is amazing, and I will always be so grateful for what they've given me, the support and confidence I've grown by having Olga," Allyson remarks. "Without Olga, I wouldn't have been able to provide all the services and enthusiasm to others who are also going through vision loss." To learn more about the GO See Foundation, visit their website (goseefoundation.org) and donate to support their future adventures!