Laura Woodroof — wife, mother, child of God and woman with an adventurous spirit and a caring heart — leads CitySquare Paris in an all-out war on poverty.
She joined the CitySquare staff the first of the year and soon became its program chairman, growing the nonprofit agency in spacious facilities made available by Oak Park Methodist Church in West Paris.
One of at least 12 children born to a homeless mother in the heart of South America, Laura was adopted when she was a year old by affluent, loving parents who were business owners and community leaders in Asuncion, Paraguay, the capital of the emerging third world country now bustling with economic activity. Her story reveals many of the reasons she holds a community leadership roll today.
“My background is a part of who I am today; it’s not all that I am, but it is important to know where I started and how blessed I am to be adopted,” Laura said. “My birth makes me humble, realizing what my life could have been, living in a shack where I found my birth mother after I had married and began thinking about starting a family.”
Instead, she grew up attending private schools and spending time in other countries learning new languages — a summer in Italy when she was 11 years old; a boarding school in England at age 13; and at age 16 an exchange student in Edinburg, Scotland, where she graduated high school.
It was then back to Paraguay where she worked a couple of years alongside her three adopted siblings in the family business, and then for Archer-Daniels-Midland, an American company setting up a branch office in Asuncion.
“I went to work there as a secretary at less pay, but I had the taste of freedom already when I was young and I wanted to work where I was not the owners’ daughter, a place I could advance on my own,” Laura said.
It was on the job she met Kevin Woodroof, a 1993 Paris High School graduate with a degree from Texas A&M-College Station. They were married and after several years, Kevin took a job in Costa Rica, where their two children were born. Still another job opportunity led them to West Texas in Canyon, near Amarillo, where Laura earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from West Texas A&M University. Three years ago, the couple moved to Paris to be closer to Kevin’s family and because they wanted to contribute to his hometown.
Laura went to work for Paris ISD as a math and Spanish teacher at the district’s alternative school, Travis High School of Choice, while her husband joined a life-long friend in business and just recently became the mills operation director at Rodgers-Wade Manufacturing.
“It was at Travis my eyes were opened to the poverty existing here,” Laura said. “It was one thing to come here to visit with family off (FM) 195 and another thing to visit the homes of my students. After listening to hardships and situations in homes, I just thought I could do more.”
A member of First United Methodist Church, Laura and her husband already participated in CitySquare’s mentoring program at Justiss and Aikin elementary schools. Laura resigned her position with the district in December 2018 and joined CitySquare part-time in January, becoming program director in March.
By June, CitySquare became partners with Paris Junior College, which began an adult education program in former Oak Park Methodist Church classrooms, now known as the CitySquare Opportunity Center. CitySquare also partners with the AmeriCorps program at Texas A&M-Commerce. Two master’s degree-level interns provide case management services and keep the opportunity center open during the week and are available for emergency situations.
The City of Paris also began a partnership in June, using the group’s Community Activity Center, formerly the church gymnasium, for a summer recreational program as did Paris ISD’s summer feeding program.
The city, along with Texas A&M Agriculture Extension Service, offers adult programs including senior bingo, a cooking class and a walking program. In addition, Young Life meets in the gym twice a week, and a group of cloggers uses the activity facility as well.
“We are gaining partners all the time,” Laura said.
“My hope is to fill these 11 rooms with activities and services for all our neighbors in need because we believe when our neighbors are doing better, the whole community benefits.”