By KATIE EUBANKS
Chanda Roby comes full circle
with REAL Christian Foundation
Genesis One Christian School in Mendenhall is where Chanda Roby first remembers learning about heaven.
“When I look back (on) my spiritual life and educational background, it goes back to the fundamental principles from my mother, my grandmother, and Genesis One,” which Chanda attended through second grade, she says.
Now, just a couple decades later, she leads a nonprofit that directly impacts the school’s parent organization, Mendenhall Ministries.
“I think it’s where God was leading me all of the time.”
Chanda was the first person in her immediate family to attend college, and she “couldn’t (afford to) run up a very high college bill,” she says. That plus her research into degree programs led her to University of Mississippi, where she got bachelor’s degrees in marketing communications and journalism. She loved it.
Then she decided to stay for law school.
Family members had urged her to get more than a bachelor’s. She had participated in moot court in high school, and had done some public speaking at church, so she looked at law and thought, “I would be good at this.”
But law school was a struggle for her. She was not used to having a hard time academically.
By the end of her first semester, she knew she didn’t want a traditional legal career, but she had no idea what that meant. When she graduated, she didn’t have a job lined up. But she wound up finding several meaningful jobs over the years.
She completed a fellowship with Americorps at the Mississippi Center for Justice in Jackson, where she worked in education law and learned that “the issues (surrounding education in Mississippi) were so deep and far-reaching. Some of the people I was dealing with in education law also had issues in youth court and other social justice areas,” she says.
“Ever since then, I’ve been attracted to things I could have a big impact in.”
Her other jobs included teaching legal writing at Mississippi College School of Law, and working at a litigation firm.
“Some of those things, I really enjoyed them. Some not so much,” she says. “But it was all a learning experience.”
Around 2015, she realized she needed a career change, and decided she wanted to pursue nonprofits.
By that time, she was serving on the board of REAL (Rural Education and Leadership) Christian Foundation, which was started by Dolphus and Rosie Weary — who had previously run Mendenhall Ministries, the parent organization of Genesis One Christian School, where Chanda attended for five years.
REAL, based in Richland, helps Mendenhall Ministries and other rural Mississippi ministries financially, as well as through technical support, education, and networking opportunities.
While serving on the REAL board, Chanda helped a local church start a nonprofit — but her position was only funded for six months. Then she worked as a guardian ad litem, representing the best interests of children in situations of suspected abuse or neglect, under Judge William “Bill” Skinner at the Hinds County Youth Court.
After serving eight years on the REAL board of directors, Chanda was on the committee to make a succession plan for the Wearys, who were getting ready to retire. Then a fellow board member asked Chanda what she was doing with her life. And Chanda vented.
“I was frustrated,” she says. “The type of career I wanted, it seemed my plans had been circumvented for a number of years.”
Still, when that board member suggested Chanda could be the new REAL president, a paid position, “my immediate response was no,” she recalls. “I think I still had this picture in my mind — there were all these (other) things I wanted to do.
“But in the midst of saying no, I had a thought, and I think it was the Holy Spirit, saying, ‘Why not you?’ So I shut up, and I said, ‘Well, let me just pray about it.’ I thought, ‘Well, this was not what I planned, but it’s so many things I’m passionate about.’”
In 2016, Chanda became REAL’s executive director, a position created so she could learn from the Wearys before they rolled off the board. In January 2019, she officially became president.
“I think my background makes it a good fit because we are supporting organizations just like the one that had such an impact on my life,” she says.
Dolphus Weary remembers enrolling Chanda in a leadership development program under the Christian Community Development Association 10 years ago, because he and Rosie saw Chanda’s potential.
“Out of that, God really touched (Chanda’s) heart to want to be a part of the solution of poverty,” he says. “We were excited (to have her take over leadership of REAL).
“Rosie and I feel good about that — that someone who came up through Mendenhall Ministries would take hold of our final dream.”
The REAL deal
REAL supports 13 rural ministries in Mississippi. Chanda says the Wearys established REAL “because they remembered how they struggled raising money for a nonprofit … a Christian nonprofit … a Christian nonprofit that was in a rural area … and a Christian nonprofit in a rural area that served minorities.”
Also, “a lot of people running ministries, this might not be the area they studied in, or they might not even have a college background, but just a passion for the ministry,” Chanda says.
For instance, they might not know how to find, ask for, write or absorb grants.
REAL gives its own grants and scholarships, along with helping the ministries with various sticking points such as structure and leadership development.
“And then lastly, we try to put them in situations where they can form relationships with people they can ask for support, but also connect them with other organizations that are doing what they’re doing, and they can kind of brainstorm and network,” Chanda says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved tough for all nonprofits this year, but REAL was still able to give away $200,000 in grants and college scholarships.
“Once we are able to get a little more creative about the circumstances, we might be able to reach more people — virtual (technology), for example, has the potential to reach more people than we reached before.”
Ultimately, Chanda hopes REAL can help bring about biblical justice in Mississippi.
“From my perspective, biblical justice is dealing with Jeremiah 29:7 — seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper,” she says.
“When you think about Mississippians being at the bottom of lists that are good … I think it falls back on the Christians. … I think we need to be more invested in what we do to help cities, in order that they can prosper and we can prosper as a state.”
The Master Orchestrator
Chanda never felt like she could use all of her skills, education and experience in one job until she came to REAL.
“My interests are very eclectic …. I’m the master of nothing. But I know a little about a lot of things,” she says.
“I had chances to get exposure to so many things (on) the legislative level, the judicial level, even community advocacy, grassroots … (and) all of those things affect the people we help. I feel like I can come to them with a clear picture of what is affecting them, how and why … and what the solutions are.”
Chanda believes everyone has a calling on his or her life. Since high school, she’s been trying to find hers.
“I feel like God revealed things to me in phases or pieces until I was ready to accept it,” she says. “I have had to look at God (like), how did You orchestrate this whole thing?”