More than 200 volunteers, donors, guests and guide dog teams were on hand this weekend as Guide Dogs of America (GDA) unveiled its latest expansion in Sylmar, CA.

The dedication of the Macki and Phil Singer Visitor and Education Center kicked off a new era for GDA.

“We’ve been doing everything we do here quite well at Guide Dogs,” said GDA President Dale Hartford. “We have successful teams, we have great volunteer and paid staff, but we have filled the space over there [existing campus]. There was no room for future growth or future fund raising ideas. This [center] behind me will become the first impression for future donors, future visitors, future clients and future patrons.”

In addition to a new 250 seat auditorium, gift shop, offices and board room, the facility will make it possible to graduate more guide dog teams. With more than 16,000 square feet of new space, additional classes can be conducted without concern for weather.

“The visitor and education center is the next step in GDA’s journey to bring life-improving services to blind and visually impaired individuals,” said IAM International President Bob Martinez. “With each person, community group or grammar school field trip that walks through these doors, news of the good work done here will spread far beyond the seven and a half acres on which the school sits.”

The cost to provide one guide dog and match it with its new blind partner is over $42,000. GDA charges nothing to guide dog recipients or their families for its services, which include a guide dog and professional instruction by licensed trainers, room and board for the 28 day instruction period, a specially designed harness, follow-up care, veterinarian care and travel expenses when requested.

The IAM founded the school more than 60 years ago and is its single largest financial supporter. Guide Dogs of America receives no money from any government agency.

To continue its work, GDA relies on donations, gifts and bequests from individuals, businesses and organizations from across North America. The school receives well over half of its financial support through donations and fundraising by the IAM and its members.