For the love of her father, Nardoci helps kids with cancer

— Photo from Sandy Nardoci

Circle of Champs: Sandy Nardoci, left, poses with Madison Leitch at a YMCA Adventure Camp in 2013. Madison is on a cheerleading squad in Colonie, and her spirit is “beyond imaginable,” Nardoci said.

GUILDERLAND — In her spare time, real-estate associate broker and town resident Sandy Nardoci helps create and run programs that provide services to the families of children with cancer. She started doing this volunteer work 30 years ago, after her father died following a seven-year battle with cancer.

Some of the first children who were served by “Circle of Champs,” a program that she co-founded, have gone on to have their own children, and some of them have come back to visit or take part in programs.

“So we’re entering our second generation,” she said.

“I don’t have children of my own, so these children from Circle of Champs are my kids,” said Nardoci, who has been married for 37 years.

It was hard enough for her, as an adult, to watch a close family member suffer, but she imagined, she said, that it would be even harder for a child to see a brother or sister struggle with illness.

Three decades ago, she became involved in programs that offer fun outings and experiences for the families of children with severe illnesses. She first volunteered for the local branch of the organization Camp Good Days and Special Times. When that program left the area, she and several others carried on its work under a new name, “Circle of Champs,” until they found a new home for their program, at the Capital District YMCA.

The program is now run by the Y, although Nardoci and the other co-founders are still deeply involved and still work hands-on with the program’s children. “I take four days off work every summer and go to camp with the children,” said Nardoci. “How fun for me!”

Through Circle of Champs, children with serious illnesses and their siblings can attend up to five weeks of YMCA day camp, free of charge, in the summer if they like; free transportation is provided when possible.  There are also monthly outings throughout the year, including bowling, skating, and visits to parks.

Besides providing kids with a valuable chance to forget about their illness and have fun for a few hours, Circle of Champs also reminds parents, Nardoci said, “that they’re not alone.”

When asked how she gets so much done as both a real-estate agent and a volunteer, Nardoci said that she works long hours and that both parts of her life are “a labor of love.”

She will be honored on Friday, at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs, with a corporate President’s Circle award, for ranking among the top 4 percent of Realtors nationwide in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network. The award will be given during a celebration to mark that firm’s local franchise, BHHS Blake’s, 95th year in business.

The company was founded as Blake Realty in 1922 by Samuel E. Blake, who was the great-grandfather of the current owner, Jay Christiana. It incorporated as Blake Realty Inc. in 1954, opened its first branch in 1968 in Amsterdam, and created separate business divisions in 1970. Nardoci joined in 1991, when the company was part of Prudential Manor Homes; in February 2015, it joined BHHS.

Nardoci says that the Christiana family, which owns the local franchise, is very supportive of all her charity work.

Owner and broker Jay Christiana is a member of an organization known as Voices of Hope, which Nardoci co-founded. Voices of Hope is a consortium of not-for-profit organizations whose leaders get together every six months or so to share resources, services, and ideas. Christiana is also co-chairman of the Annual Best Buddies Walk for April 2017. This walk supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Nardoci said that Amtrak recently reached out to Voices of Hope, and together they started “Rails to Recovery,” in which children battling illness, and their families, can get a buy-one-get-one-ticket-free deal so that they can more easily access their treatment.

Some of the other members of Voices of Hope include the Capital District YMCA, Make-a-Wish Northeast New York, the Bus Stop Club, the Andrew Christian Bryce Foundation, Community Hospice, Myles of Smyles Foundation, Maddie’s Mark Foundation, and Play It Foreward 518.

Nardoci’s father was an immigrant from Cuba, she said, who didn’t speak a word of English when he came. He worked as a waiter for executives at Merrill Lynch, she said, and “provided us with a very good life.”

He died young, in his early sixties, she said.

When he went in for cancer treatments, she said, he was always more concerned about the kids he would see there who were also sick, than about himself.

“He was something, my dad,” she said. “He was a real gentle man, a kind-spirited person.”

She said she thought he would be pleased to know that “something so good came out of something so bad.”

Her goal, she said, is to see Circle of Champs go nationwide, at all the Ys in the country. “Then I can retire,” she said, adding with a laugh, “No, not really. I’ll never retire.”

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