Mandy Rohr, a 29-year educator who retired in 2019 as Derby Middle School vice principal, will be helping ready Circles Derby for a post-COVID-19 relaunch as the initiative’s new executive director.

Circles Derby, a part of Circles USA, matches families in poverty who are willing and able to change their situations, with volunteers and a networking system to support them as they work on their education, goals, and stability.

Rohr, who taught American history and government, has lived in Derby since 1989 and has two sons who have gone through the Derby schools.

“At the middle school, I had a group of teachers and we were working on how trauma impacts our students, and certainly one of those factors is poverty,” Rohr said, explaining how she first became involved with Circles Derby.

She took a group of the teachers to a conference in Wichita, and while there during a break, she ran into the three Derby women who co-founded Circles Derby – one of whom is her neighbor.

“We had gone through a poverty simulation [at the conference] and were sharing ideas and having a discussion about what that looks like in our community and what we can do to help on the school side.”

About 18 months ago Rohr became a member of the Circles Derby Advisory Board, and in February she and Claudia Peebler, her neighbor and Circles Derby co-founder, began meeting with some of the school administrators and social workers in the district about “more collaborative efforts to support families and students all the time – not just at school but in the community as well.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Circles Derby has not been meeting in person as is its design. Circle leaders – the program participants – have been meeting with their allies and with their coach by phone and electronic methods. Rohr, the first executive director for Circles Derby, started her part-time position Aug. 24 with a view to getting resources and processes in place for a relaunch of the group meetings.

“The goal of Circles is to help people help themselves out of poverty,” Rohr said.

“My responsibilities will include recruiting volunteers, maintaining a budget, at some point fundraising … and also working with the coach, making sure those meetings with the leaders [participants] are running smoothly.

“There is also a part of Circles they call the ‘big view,’” Rohr said. She explained that part of Circles is involving community resources to help overcome barriers such as housing, childcare and transportation that help people not only get out of poverty but to thrive.

“In my experience working in the schools I saw every day not only how [poverty] impacted kids, but how it impacted families, and that’s a big part of what drives me,” Rohr said. “I’m an educator at heart and will always be, and that’s what’s great about Circles too. It’s helping educate people so they can lead themselves.”