Five years ago, a group of community leaders set out a broad plan to better the Monadnock Region. Dubbed Impact Monadnock, the program would focus funds and initiatives on this simple goal: improving early childhood outcomes.
That objective was developed out of a 2012 study done by the N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies and funded largely by the Monadnock United Way and the N.H. Charitable Foundation. It found not only were students here lagging those elsewhere in the state in academic performance by the time they reached high school, but also the incidence of mistreating children was high in this region, teen birth rates were high and the percentage of single-parent families exceeded state averages. Oh, and drug and alcohol use among our children was higher.
The plan was to use a process called “collective impact” to establish a framework for marshaling the region’s resources to tackle the concerns raised in the 2012 report, setting a firmer foundation for the community’s future success. The United Way was a key player, but the initiative would stand on its own.
It was ambitious, planning to tackle some root causes behind those concerning statistics. It would involve prenatal and postnatal care of both babies and parents, and making sure children got the nutrition and health care they need to grow and thrive. Early childhood education would be strengthened, of course, but the program would also seek to better incomes and housing situations for young families. And it would involve a number of agencies, public and private, large and small.
Recently, Liz LaRose, who heads the United Way— which has since absorbed Impact Monadnock and moved its own community-support efforts to a collective impact model — noted while there’s been progress, not all of the numbers have improved.
She pointed to her agency’s 2017 Community Impact Report, which showed, among other things, that the incidence of child maltreatment — abuse and/or neglect — in Cheshire County went up between 2013 and 2016.
When the founders of Impact Monadnock discussed the plan in 2014, they said the expectation was it would take five years to implement, at which point, they’d reassess what to focus on next. Five years in, LaRose says, that point has yet to arrive. But, she says, that doesn’t mean there’s been no progress.
In two weeks, Impact Monadnock will host the first of two training sessions for area schools and organizations that serve young children, on how to involve families in their program development. The program is being funded by a grant awarded to the University of New Hampshire for preschool development planning. A year ago, the agency received $50,000 from the N.H. Charitable Foundation to help form the Monadnock Home Visiting Alliance — a joint program of four area agencies that each provided similar services.
LaRose points out the work done over the past five years put Impact Monadnock in a position to compete for such funding, while it collected the needed information to set up its plan. It built a foundation from which the initiative can now operate.
LaRose likened the process to painting a room: to do it right, far more time must go into the preparation than the actual painting. “We’re painting (now),” she said.
It’s an apt analogy, but maybe doesn’t go far enough. Putting a coat of paint on a wall makes the wall look better, but doesn’t strengthen it. In that sense, what Impact Monadnock is really trying to do is build a better structure, from the ground up. Its goal is to strengthen the foundation of the community by starting at the beginning, with our children.
Now that it’s laid the foundation for its own work, we can perhaps expect to see real results in the outcomes of children in the community. But it won’t happen immediately.
“At the community-wide level, it takes time to see change,” LaRose said. “As a community, we still have work to do.”