By Chris Clemens Martello

The 8th Annual Matthew Varon Memorial Luncheon will be held on February 23, 2018, at Desert Willows Country Club in Palm Desert. Hosted by Helen Varon, known for her philanthropic commitment to Jewish organizations in the desert, she founded the event in memory of her grandson and to raise money for Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, a non-sectarian organization.

“Matthew was a fiercely independent young man,” states Helen Varon. “It was a perfect fit to support this organization and name this luncheon in his memory since the Center empowers blind people to, once again, gain independence and freedom.”

Prior to the founding of this one-of-a-kind center in Israel, people had to fly to the United States to get a guide dog. Not only was the travel a hardship, but the dogs did not understand Israel’s unique environment and obstacles. Founded by Noach Braun in 1991, the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is the only accredited training center in Israel, with dogs trained in Hebrew commands to navigate the congested cities in Israel with challenges not found in the U.S.


“Demand for our services continues to grow in Israel due to the constant civil unrest, terrorist attacks and military operations which are a key factor in the number of blind citizens that need a guide dog,” said Executive Director of the Israel Guide Dog Center’s USA office, Michael Leventhal.  “These guide dogs transform the lives of people who find it extremely challenging to go about their daily activities outside of their homes, with many people living in solitude. In addition to assisting the visually impaired, a close bond with the dogs provides beloved companionship.”

Only about 1% of Israel’s 24,000 registered blind people have a guide dog. The center breeds, raises and trains the puppies, a process that takes nearly two years to complete and costs $25,000 per dog. Partnering and instructing the visually impaired person with the guide dog, both at the center and in their home, takes an additional month. In addition to working with the visually impaired, the center provides service companions to autistic children, soldiers with PTSD, and other people with special needs. Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center, now has support chapters in the United States, Great Britain and Canada.

The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is dedicated to improving the quality of life of visually impaired Israelis. They provide them with mobility, independence, self-confidence and companionship through the faithful assistance of guide dog “Partners” specially trained in Hebrew to meet Israel’s rigorous and challenging environment. Founded in 1991, the Israel Guide Dog Center serves Israel’s 24,000 blind and visually impaired citizens and is the only internationally accredited guide dog program in the country.  For more information, visit

During the luncheon leadership and humanitarian awards will be presented to local honorees, yet to be named. Tickets to the luncheon are $150 per ticket or $1,500 per table of 10, and can be reserved by calling Carlos King at (760) 880-9987. The event takes place on Friday, Feb. 23, with boutique vendor shopping beginning at 10:30 a.m., and lunch at 11:30 a.m.  Desert Willow Country Club is located at 38-995 Desert Willow Drive in Palm Desert.