When Sandy Lopez lost her husband, she thought her traveling days were pretty much behind her. Then, a friend talked her into taking a Grand Circle’s Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United trip. A retired corrections lieutenant, Sandy was uneasy at first about traveling alone in foreign country. When she met another solo traveler on that trip who was having a great time, however, she thought, “Oh, man, I can do this!” She has since embraced solo travel, taking seven more trips with Grand Circle and O.A.T., with two more already scheduled for this year.

She also has embraced Grand Circle Foundation’s mission of giving back to the places where it travels. As is customary on company trips, her itineraries have included visits to local schools supported by the Foundation. “I think it’s important for people to get an education,” she says. “Without it, there’s no way to change the economic situation.” Watching schoolchildren being given computers and access to clean water through Grand Circle Foundation projects inspired her to make three consecutive annual donations.

These donations have benefited three schools. In Zimbabwe, the funds went to purchasing desks and uniforms and making improvements to the computer lab at St. Mary’s Primary School. San Josecito de Cutris School in Costa Rica benefited from stocking up on general supplies. And at Josefina Villamar Obando School, located in Ecuador’s Yarina Ecological Reserve, Sandy’s donation will help provide the children with access to clean water through the creation of a borehole and the purchase and installation of a water pump.

In 2018, instead of a school, Sandy chose to support the Imik Simik Women’s Center of Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco. The center was founded in 2012 by 13 women who came together to support each other while promoting education and skills training in this traditionally male-dominated rural area. “The thing that I think is really exceptional about Grand Circle Foundation is the support for women’s co-ops,” she says. “In countries where women don’t normally have a voice, it gives them a voice.”  Upon her returning to her home in Vacaville, California, she made a donation that was applied to the construction of a much-needed new women’s and children’s center.

Last year, when it came time to make her annual donation, she decided not to specify a beneficiary site. Instead, she gave a generous sum for the Foundation to allocate as it thought best. “The Foundation chooses wisely when they spend funds,” she says. “I’m really happy to know that they think about how they’re going to donate and what will make the biggest impact for the money.”

While, to Sandy, traveling with a company that gives back is “very important,” it’s also important that it takes care of solo travelers. “I wouldn’t be doing the traveling that I’m doing if I hadn’t come upon Grand Circle and O.A.T.,” she says.