Inspirational Speaker Laurel Hilbert is Today’s Honoree

Laurel Hilbert is an inspiration, and perhaps the best feel-good story of 2019. He’s a Syrian refugee who went from being homeless in San Francisco to the CEO of his own non-profit, and an aspiring politician interning on Capitol Hill. He’s also blind.

Laurel’s unbelievable journey from war-torn country, to homelessness, to Capitol Hill embodies and transcends the American dream. And a big part of his perseverance and ability to succeed involves Guide Dogs of America (GDA) at and Laurel’s loyal guide dog, Aero.

Blind since birth, Laurel came to the U.S. at the age of 17.  He spoke little English but enrolled in High School and began working with a orientation and mobility instructor.  His white cane far surpassed the walking stick he used in Syria, often broken by inattentive passersby.  His instructor suggested he get a guide dog – a hard sell, given that Laurel was afraid of dogs!  Three years later, Laurel applied to GDA, met his guide dog Aero, and the team has been full-steam ahead ever since!  

He’s now 23-years-old and interning in the D.C. office of Senator Diane Feinstein.  Laurel and Aero are well known on Capitol Hill, where even Aero dresses the part and wears a tie.  Laurel’s talent, drive and perseverance makes him a valued member of the congressional team, and Senator Feinstein visits Aero daily.  He balances his intern duties with the responsibilities of serving as CEO of A Dignified Home, his non-profit that recruits, trains, and certifies people who want to become foster parents, and also provides housing for people ages 12 to 24 who are homeless. He even raised money for his organization by running the San Francisco Marathon with Aero by his side.

There is no limit to Laurel’s resiliency, ability, and what he can accomplish with his highly skilled guide dog by his side.   He’s already planning to run for Senate when he is 33 years old. His story beautifully illustrates the transformative effect of a trained guide dog in the life of someone who is blind or visually impaired. 

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