My first year at Circle was Circle’s first year at Circle. I remember my mother telling me that we were headed back to camp. I remember packing my bag. I remember meeting my co-bunk counselor, Grace, and my mom’s first introductory speech welcoming a new generation of girls—for so many of them—to their first camping experience. What I do not remember, no matter how hard I try, is the year leading up to that first Circle summer.
Inspired by to help by the loss of September 11th, my mother wanted to do something. Returning to camp was a no-brainer for her. I know why and how Circle came together. I just don’t remember it. That is how natural and effortless creating Circle was for my mom. She and that first team of camp lovers built the seed of Circle in months, and it grows strong today.
Biking 720 miles is not easy, and my mom will be the first to tell you as much. Climbing onto a tiny seat day after day with hundreds of miles before her has been hard. What was not hard—I am quite sure—was deciding that she would do this ride. Helping Circle, giving it to new and returning campers every year, has never been hard for my mom.
In a few days, my father, brother and I will get a call when my mom reaches Circle of Tapawingo and the ride is over. We’ll hear about the last rainstorm that threatened to slow the ride down or the cold dinner cobbled together the night before because the restaurant closed early. What we will not hear is any exhaustion in my mom’s voice. The moment she rides in to Circle, the campers will fill her with all the energy she needs to tackle the next challenge. And I am sure, as with all things Circle for my mom, she’ll make it look easy.
Jessie Welch Friend, Sandi's daughter
I get ear worms all the time. The song that’s been in my head for days is ‘What Have you Done for Me Lately’. Don’t know the words, don’t know who the singer is, I just know the title and the tune.
Training for a BIG bike ride is tough. Mile after mile on a bike is physically challenging and boring and I’ll fix on anything that is a mental challenge. I twisted thing sup and started playing around with the concept of what Circle has done for me (I’m pretty clear on what I’ve done for Circle .)
After 20 minutes, I literally had to get off my bike. I was stunned at the remarkable list of what Circle has done for me. Sharing 17 years of camp weeks with Circle girls has redefined me and that’s saying something since I was 52 when I founded Circle. I’m 70 years old now and not a day goes by that I don’t receive another Circle gift. Let me share…
I understand that living honors loss.
I treasure my family.
I resolve to walk through life with the trust and
humor and resilience and courage and determination
of Circle campers.
I realize that a touch or a smile eases pain.
I accept that tears and laughter go hand in hand.
I embrace a world that embraces inclusivity.
I count 19-year-olds as friends.
I know that silly songs are antidotes to sadness.
I can live without air conditioning, a long, hot shower, a hair dryer, apricots and fig balsamic vinaigrette.
I swear by the 30-second rule and the disbelief of my home friends when I pick a grape off the floor and eat it.
I sleep better in a bunk at camp than in a bed at home
By the time anyone reads this, there’ll be a new song stuck in my head.
It won’t have the same impact as my current ear worm. Thinking about what Circle has done for me has been a wild, emotional ride. And, yes, I know that Circle is not about me. I also know that Circle is all about me…
Many years ago, the Teen campers at Circle of Tapawingo convinced me to ‘sleep under the stars’ with them on the last night of camp. It had been a hot, dry day and as far as I knew, there was no prediction of rain. We dragged out sleeping bags and flashlights and talked long past normal camper ‘lights out’. Even though I loved the conversation and camaraderie, I was the first to fall asleep. Apparently no one but me really planned to sleep outside; the forecast was for high wind and rain that night. I woke up in the middle of the night, alone, soaked and cold.
When I walked into the dining room the next morning, there was huge applause and truly raucous laughter. To this day, I treasure that prank and what it says about the camaraderie and trust we build at Circle.
So…why am I writing about this? Several of the campers who pranked me that night are now Circle counselors. College students majoring in Biology, Business, Child Development, Elementary Education, Engineering, Fashion Design, Finance & Law, International Affairs, Mathematics, Microbiology, Neuroscience, Psychology, Social Sciences, Social Work, and Women’s Studies; graduate students working toward their MSW, and Nurses, Community Service Advocates, Medical Technologists, and Teachers…
I have watched these counselors grow up and into themselves.
I am filled with pride and admiration for their personal and professional accomplishments.
I am riding for them and the invaluable gifts they are giving to current campers.
I am riding for them because they are the future of Circle.
I hope every single one of them is invited to sleep outside with their campers. And I hope it rains - hard!
Sandi Lando Welch
Founder, Executive Director,