Montibello neighborhood resident Sandra Feldman is an involved member of the Charlotte community. She belongs to the League of Women Voters and is a member and past president of the Charlotte Area Peace Corps Association.
Additionally, Feldman was named the 2007 Business Owner of the Year by the Charlotte Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
However, there is a place other than Charlotte that also is dear to her: It was during a college trip after her freshman year at George Washington University that Feldman first developed a love for the Republic of Costa Rica.
Invited by a Costa Rican friend and fellow student, Feldman immediately felt a connection to the culture, people and natural beauty of the country.
Feldman returned to the area as a Peace Corps volunteer after college. For two years, she worked in the rural village of Venecia, where she was involved in the building of a school and a community center.
In the years that followed, Feldman had a successful business career, directing and teaching management, organizational and community development, both in the United States and abroad.
In 1992, Sandra and her husband, Elliott Feldman, moved from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte when he took the position of assistant district director of U.S. Customs.
She maintained her connection to Costa Rica and wanted to share her love and knowledge of the area with others.
In 1998, she officially started Costa Rica Tours Ltd. and conducted her first tour the following year.
Although initially focused solely on Costa Rica, Feldman, 67, has since included Panama among the tours offered.
When Elliott, 69, retired about eight years ago, he joined her in the business.
Each trip is led by either Feldman or one of her tour escorts. While there, the escorts work alongside local guides, who reflect Feldman's high standards.
The tours focus on local activities and destinations in lesser-traveled regions, giving participants an opportunity to experience the true culture of the area.
Costa Rica Tours offers several innovative tours that include Costa Rican variety, gardens, nature, tropical cooking school and Panama (with canal transit).
Another specialty of CRT is its customized tours, such as for families, educational organizations or local groups. A hallmark of CRT is small group size, which is limited to 16.
Tour prices vary and include all itinerary activities, meals and transport while on location. Airfare is not included. Tours usually are between six and eight days, and the flight is approximately four hours from Charlotte. The lowest-priced tour - Panama with canal transit - costs $1,795; the most expensive - Costa Rican garden tour - is $1,975.
Feldman's business is an extension of her commitment to the development of Costa Rica. She has maintained friendships from her Peace Corps days and always made a point of visiting the country during international business trips to Latin America.
Feldman has been recognized by both the Costa Rican government and the country's national media for her work toward the betterment of the Costa Rican community.
"Each trip is like going for the first time," Feldman said of her visits. She describes the Costa Rican people as friendly, welcoming and hospitable to Americans.
January will be the next scheduled trip, with a deadline to sign up in early October.