ALBANY — With the new year came another transition: World Fellowship Center's longtime directors Andy Davis and Andrea Walsh are retiring, and the Octavia Driscoll of New York has been hired to take their place.

Situated at 368 Drake Hill Road on a mile-long campus with a view of Mount Chocorua, the 80-year-old center calls itself a place “where social justice meets nature.”

It includes summer camp buildings with access to Whitton Pond for adults and families who share progressive values. It can serve from 140-150 campers.

Davis, 60, and Walsh, 59, met in the early 1990s in Guatemala where they were doing human rights work. The married couple began the process of taking over directorship of the World Fellowship Center from Kit and Christoph Schmauch, who retired in 2001.

Flash-forward 20 years, and the 35-year-old Driscoll is now at the center’s helm.

“At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 2021, the baton was passed,” said Davis in a sit-down interview Monday at Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth. Walsh phoned in her responses due to COVID-19 concerns.

Driscoll also spoke to the Sun by phone Jan. 7 because she was visiting friends in the San Francisco Bay area.

“My plan is really to just build upon and support the legacy that’s already there,” she said. “I hope to help the organization create a stable foundation that’s going to really help it thrive in this next 20 years. It’s an 80-year-old organization — I would love it to reach 100, at least.”

Her hiring was announced last March. She overlapped with Davis and Walsh from May through the end of December.

“We are so grateful to Andy and Andrea for their stewardship of World Fellowship and especially for all the relationships they made with our neighbors in the region,” said World Fellowship board co-chair Molly Rose Kaufman.

She added: “Our search committee was composed of a diverse and dedicated team of our community members. They were excited to see the number of candidates interested in leading our next chapter.

“Octavia stood out for her ability to creatively and adeptly manage complex projects and her commitment to building a just future for all,” Kaufman said. “While these times filled with uncertainty, we are confident that Octavia will lead World Fellowship toward a sustainable future so we can maintain a positive presence for generations to come."

Driscoll visited the center for the first time in November of 2020 and was on site last summer.

She said she looks forward to her first season as the director.

“I feel like this past summer, I definitely got a taste of it, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see what it really is,” Driscoll told the Sun.

“I've heard so many people speak of just the incredible community and special atmosphere that exists there in the summer,” she said. “The thing that everybody talks about is people, the community, the energy, the passion. And I definitely got to see some of it this past summer, but I’m looking forward to experiencing more and more of it.”

Since Driscoll was selected, the center has held virtual meet-and-greets with the community. Guests could also meet her in person over the summer.

Prior to joining World Fellowship, Driscoll served as director of production management at The New School College of Performing Arts in New York City for nearly six years.

“I had been looking to make a shift out of performing arts into different kinds of non-profit work,” said Driscoll. “I’m very social justice-oriented.”

Davis and Walsh were not part of the selection process.

Walsh explained that the center’s board created a search committee and the search was nationwide and drew more than 25 applicants.

Neither the Walshes nor Driscoll would discuss her salary or what they had been earning.

Driscoll plans to be in New Hampshire for a couple weeks at the end of January and then be back more regularly in April and settle in mid-May. The World Fellowship’s busy season will remain until the end of June through Labor Day.

Driscoll was born in(Grosse Pointe Farms near Detroit and raised in the suburbs around Cleveland called Bay Village. She earned her bachelor of arts degrees from Lawrence University in English and theater. Driscoll went on to earn a master of science degree in non-profit management from the New School.

Her career has taken from the San Francisco Bay area to Washington, D.C., New York and now Albany. Her past jobs dealt with the logistics, operations and financial aspects of putting on large-scale productions

Driscoll is single and has no pets but at some point she would love to have a dog. As for hobbies, she loves hiking to waterfalls, attending theater and musical performances and cooking Cajun food.

She will live in the director’s residence that Walsh and Davis inhabited.

A couple of years ago, while doing her undergraduate work, she met people working on 400 Years of Inequality Coalition which the New School is a part.

“This is how I got connected to World Fellowship,” said Driscoll. “They introduced me to the organization, and when the job became available, said ‘You should really consider this.’”

One thing she appreciates about her new job is that she will be able to spend six months in this “gorgeous location in New Hampshire” and then spend the other six months working remotely doing planning work for the upcoming summer season.

“I get to both have a mix of a little bit of my city time and my summers in New Hampshire,” said Driscoll. “And I’m really excited about kind of blending those worlds together.”

Davis and Walsh lived year-round ion the campus and raised their daughter Fiona there.

Fiona is now in her last year at Tufts University in Boston. Davis, who is a carpenter, is building their new family home in Tamworth. In the meantime, they are housesitting for his brother in Tamworth.

Asked to reflect on their 20 years as co-directors of the center, they said they tried to continue the good work the Schmauchs (who moved to Columbus, Ohio) had done.

Walsh said a highlight was putting a 400-acre conservation easement on World Fellowship Property with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, which was completed in 2020. She said this effort required a lot of community and grant support. The easement is named after the Schmauchs.

“She really helped initiate and grow the interpretive nature trails and worked with (the late) Dave Eastman extensively through the years as we were privileged to be able to help people get more familiar with our land,” said Walsh.

As for Davis, he’s proud of expanding the World Fellowship’s programming to include physical activities and nature programming. That included daily hiking and biking trips off campus as well as yoga and tai chi.

There were numerous musical guests and guest speakers such as linguist/political activist Noam Chomsky and campaign finance reform champion Doris “Granny D” Haddock.

“The violin-playing hula-hooper was a highlight,” said Walsh.

“We’ve had a lot of kick-ass performers from the Early Music Week faculty concert early in the season, with professional teachers playing 14th century viola da gamba and harpsichord and recorders, to hip hop artists and musicians of every stripe and color and somatic possibility,” she added.

Another thing Davis and Walsh have enjoyed is watching people grow up at World Fellowship. Children who came there in 2000 are now young adults and some are making an impact already.

One such person is Alex Fried. In 2011, he helped create the Trash2Treasures movement at UNH which has since gone national. Essentially, this was an effort to resell furniture, appliances and clothing that students would otherwise throw out.

“I just love when people are able to put things together and imagine what they do locally being part of a national and international solution,” said Davis.

Walsh added, that Trash2 Treasurers was “not just for profit, for their own game, but to really help make the world a better place for everyone.”

The couple divided their work load into areas of responsibility. Walsh focused on administrative and financial tasks while Davis did programming, buildings and grounds.

“There’s always a certain amount of overlap between us, we pitch in and give each other help and support in each of our areas,” said Davis. “It’s always nice to have another pair of eyes to look at your work.”

Right now, the World Fellowship has a year-around staff of three. Driscoll, Personnel Manager and Outreach Director Alice James and the Buildings and Grounds Manager Matt Parks.

During the summers, in the past, World Fellowship had up to 30 seasonal staff but that had been much reduced because of COVID precautions, said Davis.

Driscoll, meanwhile, takes over at a challenging time for the Center which has been embattled by COVID-19. It was completely closed in 2020 and reopened to about half capacity in 2021. This created a “substantial deficit” and she is crunching the numbers now.

“As we move into 2022, we will be continuing our fundraising efforts and expanding our development strategies,” said Driscoll. “We will also be seeking new revenue streams such as opening our campground and perhaps some of our buildings in the off-season for folks who want to visit even if programs are not happening. I would love for us to host events for the local community, maybe a barbecue in June in addition to partnering with other organizations to hold WFC events in places like Boston and New York.

“While the moment is challenging, I am excited to grow the organization in the coming years as we all adapt to the changing environment.”

Driscoll says she’s looking for ways to improve the center’s finances and attract “wonderful programs” while keeping the guests safe virus wise. She said 2021 was safely run and one staff member came down with asymptotic COVID and was quarantined.

Right now, Driscoll is working on lining up summer and virtual programming. “We’re gonna revisit our COVID policies and make a new plan for 2022 and follow the information that’s coming out and reopen this summer with the same goals of being together and being safe,” said Driscoll.

She said the center will continue to be a place for conversations on topics like racial and reproductive justice, wealth, redistribution and wage equity, and health care.

“We had to be really COVID-conscious last summer,” said Driscoll. “And so a lot of our stuff was private, but I’m hoping that we are going to be able to be a little bit more relaxed this year.”

Walsh said among those private events was a retreat for organization called One Fair Wage that’s fighting for $15 per hour for workers.

“We were super proud to have made the decision in the previous year in 2019, we’ve committed to $15 an hour for our staff so we could heartily invite this group to come and support their work,” said Walsh.

One thing Davis and Walsh were famous for is leading or attending protests on the Four Corners in Conway, which is the intersection of Route 16, Pleasant Street and Washington Street.

Davis took Driscoll to one such event one rainy day in September. Kennett students had organized a climate action rally along with 350 New Hampshire.

“I certainly plan to continue to be active politically and raise my voice and help facilitate others doing the same on issues that are important,” said Davis.

Driscoll said she’ll probably be joining Davis and Walsh on the Four Corners from time to time.

“We are in many ways aligned in our views on a lot of subjects, not everything, but I am someone who will definitely come out for protests when I feel like it is an important topic,” she said.

What’s next for Davis and Walsh?

Once Davis finishes the house by the middle of the year, he hopes to build on his other career as a storyteller who shares “allegedly true” personal anecdotes as well as inspirational stories of people from the past who believed in their ability to change the world for the better.

Andrea will be the volunteer coordinator at Visiting Nurse Homecare & Hospice of Carroll County and Western Maine

Driscoll set an optimistic tone during the interview.

“I am hoping that we can together to create the next chapter of World Fellowship,” said Driscoll.

“I'm the fifth generation of leadership and so there was a long period of time before Andy and Andrea, and I am hopeful that there will be a long period of time after me as well.”

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