Sandi Lando Welch, Founder and Executive Director
Fifty-five years ago, my parents gave me the gift of overnight camp. When my dad died a decade ago, he and my mom were just beginning to understand how profound the camp experience was for me. It wasn’t their fault - it was mine. I didn’t share camp.
I didn’t have the words to tell them I was two different people when I was younger – the ’home’ person who did as my friends did, and the camp girl who reveled in finding a world that fit me, really fit me.
I held fast to my camp self for 50 years before founding Circle Camps and I am no better at sharing now than I was then. That was and remains my big mistake. I should invite the special people in my life to share my special world. I should tell them that even though I unpack my camp stuff, I never really put it away. The real gift from my parents was their making available to me two different worlds and their finally understanding that my camp world remained with me long after I unpacked.
We give that same gift to our campers. We send them home with the knowledge, the deep-in-their-hearts knowledge that their Circle world will be there for them. Today I thrive on sharing my Circle world. It is a remarkable one, filled with love, and hope and vision for the future. What amazing work we are doing….
I am a Director of Hebrew Free Loan in Pittsburg, PA, an instructor of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and a Master Gardener. I was an avid runner, competitive swimmer, and long distance cyclist. I still do all three sports - just more slowly.
After graduating from Bowdoin College, I went to Emory School of Law where I met my wife Susan. From the day I met her, Susan talked about her summers at Camp Tapawingo, what her years there meant to her and how she wished for a reason to go back to her camp. In 2001, her former camp friend Sandi Welch called to ‘invite’ Susan to join her start and plan for Circle Camps, and Susan got her wish.
She and I were first-year counselors at Circle Camps’ pilot program Circle of Tapawingo. Since then, our whole family has taken part in Circle. Both of our daughters, Lane and Ricky have volunteered at Circle and they are deeply committed to and supportive of the camp and it’s purpose. Lane is now one of the Directors. I was one of the original directors of the Circle Summit Leadership Program and am pleased that the program has become the primary source of new, young counselors for the Circle Camps programs.
Susan was a volunteer at Circle for 15 years, developed the camps’ Land Sports Programs, and went on to become Chair of the Board of Directors. She and I were married for 31 years before her death from cancer in March of 2016. Ricky, Lane and I continue to celebrate her life by surrounding ourselves with all the wonderful campers, counselors, staff and directors that make Circle a very special place - a place where girls can also celebrate life after experiencing a loss of a parent.
What are the chances of having two practicing architects on one small board of directors? Pretty good, when they have known each other for over 50 years. Board member Jay Bright and I were college freshmen together and have remained friends since that time. He started working on my wife Randy and me to volunteer with Circle Camps; after several years, we ran out of excuses and decided to join as volunteers at the Circle of Tapawingo in Maine.
In 2017, Circle of EKC opened, and I have been volunteering there as a land sports counselor and as one of two camp photographers capturing this remarkable week on camera. Each week at camp, I amass over 2,000 photographic images and, in the last 24 hours of the week, sort, cull, and assemble a fraction of them into a retrospective slide show of and for the campers and counselors.
Over my 40-plus years as an architect, I have worked on many fascinating and challenging projects. In that profession, we formulate ideas and grow them into three-dimensional structures that stand proudly on their own. At Circle, we grow young girls who have lost a parent into young women who can also stand proudly and take command of their lives.
After spending my 20s living in various cities, achieving undergraduate and graduate degrees in writing, working jobs from dog walker to camp counselor to 7th grade teacher, I have landed back in my home of Atlanta as the Project Manager for The Galloway School, an independent K-12 in the heart of the city.
Through all of the professional and personal experiences I've had thus far--camp has left the most indelible mark. I spent many summers of my childhood following my counselors through the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, and six summers of my adulthood leading campers through the wilderness of Maine. When I was not physically at camp, I was talking about camp, crying about camp, and trying to imagine what my future would look like when camp and camp people were no longer parts of my life. There is inherent goodness inside camp people. Camp people are my people…
From that first Circle summer back in 2002 when I was a counselor’s helper, I’ve known that someday I would work my way back to this remarkable program. I'm dedicated to the mission of Circle Camps and challenged to honor its traditions as I seek to help create new ones. I am deeply honored to begin my service as a Director.
When not working, Sunday is my favorite day of the week. That’s when I enjoy being a new homeowner with my partner Grace, wrangle our herd of three dogs and daydream about camp.
When Sandi Welch asked me if I would be interested in becoming involved with Circle Camps, I was delighted. But I also had to smile because of the irony of being asked to get involved with camp – any camp for any reason. When I was 8 years old, my older sister, Helen, was going to Camp Stoney Mill for the second year. I begged my mother to let me go – not because I really had even thought about what camp entailed, but only because this would be the second summer Helen got to go away for two weeks to camp. If she was going, I was going! My mother agreed and off Helen and I went to camp-- my one and only camping experience: I cried every day for two weeks. I don’t think I ever stopped crying. I was homesick!! I embarrassed my sister daily (she loved camp and went every year until she was 18!). I never went to camp again!
I grew up in southern Virginia and by the time I went away to college, I was over my homesickness. After graduation, I moved to Atlanta and in 1970 began working for The Coca-Cola Company. In 1998, I was elected Vice President of the Company by the Board of Directors, in addition to serving as Director of the group responsible for the supply chain of more than 4,000 confidential ingredients used in the production of all the products - worldwide - of the Company. I retired in 2016 after the most incredible and wonderful 45-year career I could ever imagine. In the not-so-distant past, I completed several marathons; currently I am an enthusiastic half-marathon runner.
A few years after moving to Atlanta, I met Susan and Peter Emmons. They became dear friends to Bill (my husband of 40 years) and me. From them, I learned of Circle Camps and from the beginning, I thought how wonderful for a young person who has lost a parent to be able to spend a week at camp surrounded by others who understand.
I had been hearing about Circle Camps for eight summers, but never quite saw how I, a 20-something year-old guy, would fit in a camp of 100+ screaming girls. When my mom, the Head Nurse, requested as a Mother’s Day gift that I join her for one summer as a land sports counselor I didn’t know what to expect. As a broke college student, this idea fit nicely in my budget of zero dollars. I figured I could sacrifice just one week of just one summer and that would be the end.
I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.
That summer was an incredible experience I’ll never forget. It was exhausting. It was emotional. But more than anything, it was rewarding. That week I gained 100+ new little sisters and I couldn’t imagine another summer without them. I didn’t know it at the time, but Circle would become an even bigger part of my life. A few weeks after returning from camp, my uncle unexpectedly died and left my two cousins in a world of hurt. However, I knew the perfect place where they could grieve and grow and learn to adjust to their “new normal.”
I’m truly grateful I made the decision to volunteer for “just one week of just one summer” and now as a Director, I’m glad I’m able to contribute year-round.
Four summers ago, Samdi Welch sent me an email asking me to be the dance instructor for Circle of EKC. The email turned out to be one of the best gifts I had ever received. Dance at Circle Camps is a chance to let go, to express emotions of life through music and movement. It naturally fits into Circle Camps program designed to build confidence, self-awareness, self-expression, fun, and team building.
The gift that I received from a simply worded email invitation to enter into an enriching and rewarding magical experience of Circle Camps is very difficult to describe. Being a part of the Circle Camps experience has exposed me to an understanding of the power of strength and healing through this program. It has given me an awareness and respect of the benefits that a week at camp can instill in these young girls and young women It teaches them to forge ahead and fly.
I began my involvement with Circle Camps by writing checks to contribute to what I determined to be an excellent organization that fulfills an important need. By volunteering, my connection has grown, and so has my commitment.
I am very proud and honored to be a part of Circle Camps and to serve as a member of the Board of Directors