A St. James middle schooler has raised more than $10,000 since the beginning of the school year in an effort he spearheaded to sponsor future service dogs that could one day be companions for wounded veterans, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the blind.
Matthew Redlein, 13, has been leading the charge by fundraising in his community and at Nesaquake Middle School, where he is in seventh grade. From organizing charitable movie nights to selling bracelets and lollipops for fundraising dollars, Matthew has made $10,205 as of Sunday, with a goal of raising at least $18,000 for America’s VetDogs, according to his website. At a cost of $6,000 to sponsor a puppy with the Smithtown nonprofit that places dogs with veterans in need, Matthew’s goal amount would provide the seed money for three new service dogs to get their start.
“I wanted to help people, to make their lives better if something is holding them back,” Matthew said. “It’s really cool knowing that these dogs are capable of doing all this stuff — helping people do basic stuff, like turning on the lights to getting the phone to save their lives — it’s amazing.”
Matthew’s mother, Theresa, works for America’s VetDogs and its parent nonprofit, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. But the Redleins have a much more personal connection to the potential emotional and practical benefits of service animals: Matthew is blind in one eye, and his older brother Brandon, is completely blind.
The brothers share a hereditary condition: familial exudative vitreoretinopathy, known as FEVR, a disease that affects the retina, and the severity of which varies from patient to patient. Matthew had surgery at two weeks old to save his left eye, which he says has grown stronger recently with help from his doctors. Brandon, 24, a communications student at Suffolk County Community College, uses a cane to get around, but is waiting to find out if he will start training this summer at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind to finally get what he’s been longing for — a service dog of his own.
“A guide dog for me would open up a whole new world. Not only would it be an asset to me, but it would also be a companion,” Brandon said. “A cane can only tell you so many things. A guide dog is so much more. It’s not only a stick of metal; it’s a pair of eyes that can help you, and it opens up a whole new avenue to the world.”
Matthew and his family said the fundraiser may be extended to sponsoring puppies for training with the Guide Dog Foundation, to benefit people like Brandon.
“It means a lot,” Theresa Redlein said. “It’s extremely personal to our family. In our home, every day, we live with this.”
Matthew’s fundraising website can be found at Mattsfundraiser.vetdogs.org.