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Barbara and Dick Couch and Christina Lachance. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Barbara and Dick Couch and Christina Lachance. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Couch Foundation gift will help boost youth opportunity

Christina Lachance joins Foundation as director of early childhood and family initiatives

A major gift from the Couch Family Foundation means a big step forward in the Foundation’s efforts to increase opportunity for New Hampshire’s kids.

The Couches’ gift has allowed the Foundation to hire a Director of Early Childhood and Family Initiatives to lead its work on early childhood development and family and youth supports — tackling policy, advocacy, convening and grant-making on this critical issue. Improving early childhood care and education is a major component of the Charitable Foundation’s New Hampshire Tomorrow plan to increase youth opportunity.

Christina Lachance, former vice president of children’s services and oral health at Easter Seals New Hampshire, was chosen for the position after an extensive national search. Lachance has an advanced degree in early childhood, has directed a Head Start program, and has extensive experience leading health and human services programs for children in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine.

“We are thrilled to be able to hire such a strong leader and expert in early childhood to direct this work,” said Katie Merrow, vice president of the Foundation’s Community Impact Department. “The Foundation is all-in on the critical importance of early childhood — and the Couches’ gift enables us to work on this issue on all fronts. While this work will be long-term and challenging, I think we have just changed the game.”

The Foundation’s New Hampshire Tomorrow youth opportunity plan aims to help New Hampshire kids reach their full potential by focusing on four areas: early childhood development; family and youth supports; substance use prevention, treatment and recovery; and education and career pathways. The Foundation’s board has committed $100 million over 10 years to New Hampshire Tomorrow, and generous donors from all over the state are helping expand the pool of dollars available and build the momentum for this critical work to narrow the opportunity gap facing so many of our kids.

The Foundation’s new early childhood position is modeled after a similar position that directs the Foundation’s work on preventing substance use disorders, made possible by donors Oliver and Dorothy Hubbard of Walpole.

Barbara and Dick Couch, founders of the Couch Family Foundation, are long-time owners of Hypertherm, an advanced manufacturing company in Hanover. They are leaders in the state on workforce development, supporting the creation of courses, programs and partnerships to help students train for and retain good jobs in New Hampshire. And they know that good education starts before kindergarten.

“Studies show that those early years make a difference,” Barbara Couch said. “We want these children to stay in New Hampshire and find good jobs in New Hampshire. We, as employers, want to build up our future workforce — and that doesn’t start in the college years or late high school years. It extends from cradle to career.”

Studies also show that investing in early childhood reaps significant social and economic rewards: A dollar invested in early childhood returns $7 in productivity and saved societal costs.

The Couches’ understanding of the critical importance of early childhood stems in large part from the experience of their daughter, Brooke Couch Freeland, who manages the family foundation. Freeland once worked for Strategies for Children— which launched the successful Early Education for All campaign in Massachusetts. Freeland would share studies about the critical importance of early childhood education and the wide gulf in quality of education between rich and poor kids.

And then the Couches had their own grandkids (now two months, two, five and six years old). And they witnessed, Barbara said, “the incredible opportunities that our grandchildren are having in their early years both at home and outside of the home … the way they are educated, the tools and the resources they have inside their home and the time they have with their parents to learn and engage and grow — and the opportunity to go to an excellent preschool and nursery school starting at a very young age.”

The Couches know that many kids don’t have experiences anything like that — and that the lack of early learning opportunities and quality care can severely hamper their ability to thrive.

The Couches want to help change those kids’ lives.

“How can you work on improving the opportunity for children in both in terms of preschool, kindergarten and early childhood education, but also improving the knowledge of the adults in the home environment to improve the environment that small children are in?” Dick Couch said. The Foundation has made initial targeted grants to local efforts aimed at addressing those things.

Narrowing the opportunity gap on a large scale will take a mixture of public and private investment, collaborative efforts, proven on-the-ground strategies — and targeted policies at the state and federal levels.

The New Hampshire Tomorrow initiative represents one part of that picture for New Hampshire.

The Couches initially considered hiring an early childhood expert at their own family foundation, but decided that funding a position to lead the early-childhood efforts at the Charitable Foundation was a better option.

“It just seemed to make much more sense from the point of view of convening in New Hampshire and in terms of advocacy and the Foundation’s status within the state,” Dick Couch said. “And the national connections the Charitable Foundation has developed and can develop in the future” with partners and funders will be critical in making significant change. “Those were very compelling reasons to partner and work in conjunction with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.”

Lachance started at the Foundation in October.

“I am profoundly grateful to have been selected to do the work,” Lachance said. “I am thrilled that the Couch Family Foundation would make this kind of gift, and that the Charitable Foundation would create this kind of role and really think about very young children and their families in such a profound and global way.”