Chad Bouton, a former Crestview resident, is organizing a Southeastern Guide Dogs walkathon on Saturday, April 4 at the Spanish Trail Park.
CRESTVIEW — When former Crestview resident Chad Bouton was only 11-years-old, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a disorder that causes a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina.
The disorder is slowly causing Bouton to lose his vision. Since the diagnosis, Bouton learned braille and how to use a cane at a young age.
"I tried to be optimistic," Bouton said. "I did things I was asked to do but I was upset."
Bouton, who is now 26-years-old, can still see but only what’s directly in front of him. Bouton describes it as looking through a straw, but due to having cataracts his vision is sometimes blurry.
Five years ago he received a guide dog, named Andros, from the nonprofit organization Southeastern Guide Dogs. The organization, which has been open since 1982, trains dogs to assist the visually impaired and to help veterans suffering from disabilities such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
According to Bouton, having Andros has changed his life significantly.
"I wasn’t as confident or adventurous before I got Andros," Bouton said. "I didn’t think there was a place for me in the world, but since getting Andros that has completely changed. Andros gave me the confidence to move away from home and do things on my own."
Bouton fell in love with the organization that gave him Andros and in 2017, he applied to work for them.
Bouton started out in the organization working as a desk clerk but now he works as a walkathon assistant. According to Bouton, walkathons are one of the biggest fundraisers for Southeastern Guide Dogs.
In April, Bouton will be leading the first Emerald Coast Walkathon. The free event will be held on April 4 at Spanish Trail Park in Crestview.
"The sky is the limit when it comes to fundraising for the walkathon," Bouton said.
Prior to the event, anyone who would like to help fund-raise can do so by selling raffles tickets for different items that will be given away during the walkathon. According to Bouton, many different businesses in the city are donating raffle prizes.
During the day of the event, there will be a 3K walk and a Waggin’ Tail Festival, which will include fun for the whole family, including pets.
According to Bouton, the event will include food vendors, live music, contests, raffles, obstacle courses and much more.
The goal for the event is to raise at least $25,000. All of the money will go directly back to Southeastern Guide Dogs to help them train and pair dogs with the visually impaired and with veterans.
"What it comes down to is you’re not only helping change someone’s life, you’re helping to save lives," Bouton said. "It not only helps the individuals the dogs are matched with but it helps the families too."
For more information about the walkathon, visit www.guidedogswalkathon.com or call the Southeastern Guide Dogs organization at 941.803.7563.