Start Small. Think Big.

What if we invested earlier in the emotional well-being of our young children and their parents to help them and our communities to thrive?

Photo of Marjorie Droppa
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Poverty, abuse and high-stress environments can have toxic effects on the young brain leading to lifelong problems. The launch of "Start Small Think Big" began with a needs assessment that found child welfare, economic opportunity and educational attainment were significant challenges for the Monadnock Region. Impact Monadnock formed to tackle these challenges by investing in the most compelling root cause of community well-being: the health and wellness of children age 0-5 and their families.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Self-identify race, ethnicity, or origin

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

I am half-English (born in the United Kingdom) and half-American (my mom is from Minnesota)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New Hampshire

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New Hampshire

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

The Monadnock Region (1 city, 36 towns) and bordering communities in Vermont.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Persistent social challenges have forced Impact Monadnock (IM) to use non-traditional ways of addressing community well-being. "Start Small Think Big" uses a Collective Impact (CI) approach to focus people on a key determinant of thriving communities: early childhood. It leverages change by forging consensus among unlikely allies, funneling resources into child well-being, & including community partners in teams implementing its strategic plan.

What is the single most effective thing we can do to reverse the negative trends that threaten our community's future?

Focus on the social and emotional well-being of our youngest citizens age 0-5 and their families.

Research shows that positive nurturing and learning experiences are vital for the future success of children. That’s because the neural circuits in the brain, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are at their most receptive during infancy and early childhood. By the time a child is seven years old, these circuits have established patterns of intellectual and emotional responses that are already resistant to change.

Factors such as poverty, parental neglect and depression, abuse, poor nutrition, and living in a high-stress environment can have toxic effects on young brains, leading to lifelong emotional and behavioral problems. 

Over the last decade, the Monadnock Region of southwest NH has lost a significant number of high-paying jobs – and many of the jobs that are available here do not pay a livable wage. High school graduation rates are not where they should be and proficiency in math and reading is low. Homelessness is growing and opioid addiction rates are skyrocketing. Teen pregnancy rates and single-parent households in the Monadnock region are higher than the state average. So is child abuse and neglect.

In a stable, nurturing environment, surrounded by attentive parents and caregivers, children are better able to acquire the social, behavioral, cognitive and language skills that are so vital for future success and protect their brains against toxic stress. Such children are far more likely to grow into healthy, happy responsible adults. They’re more likely to succeed in school and on the job – and to raise healthy families of their own.

In other words, if we want to be surrounded by great neighbors in a great community 20 years from now, we need to lay the foundation of social and emotional well-being today. It’s time to “Start small. Think big.”

That's the focus of Impact Monadnock's Early Childhood Development Initiative, an organization that came into being when a community-wide needs assessment found child welfare, economic opportunity and educational attainment were the Monadnock Region's most persistent social challenges. Using a Collective Impact approach, Impact Monadnock rallied the community around the single most compelling root cause of these challenges: a lack of investment in the well-being of young children.

Impact Monadnock works with a rich and varied array of partners, from parents, pediatricians and business people to social service agencies, law enforcement, educators, behavioral health experts and policymakers. Its Collective Impact approach means these partners are active participants in the work, from helping to develop the Early Childhood Initiative's strategic plan to being invested stakeholders on implementation teams built to roll out strategies in the community. Its goal is not to compete with organizations already involved in helping children but to embrace their expertise and experience and, in this way, forge sustainable and consensus-based relationships with one goal: helping our children thrive. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Businesses and faith communities are also involved.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

For the past year, citizens from throughout the Monadnock Region, came together to develop a plan to improve community wellbeing by investing in young children and their families. One area of focus is the emotional welfare of this population. The community aims to ensure all children age 0-5 and their families who need emotional and behavioral health services are easily and regularly accessing care for their needs. Plans include integrating developmental screening into medical well-child visits and introducing screening of parents of young children for depression. These strategies are aimed at reducing toxic stress which can alter the architecture of the developing brain thus reducing chances of lifelong success & wellbeing.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

2015 Launch of Early Childhood Development (ECD) Initiative addressing community's challenges: child welfare, educational attainment, economic opportunity Selection of backbone organization to implement Initiative Launch of grassroots advocacy movement creating sustainable momentum around ECD Recruitment of businesses through summit by presenting the business case for ECD. Formation of community-led steering committee to develop strategic plan for the initiative Nurturing of state & cross-border relationships to ensure regional needs represented at all levels of community action FUTURE: Children and families who need emotional and behavioral services are easily and regularly accessing care for their needs. Families of young children are connected to the opportunities they need to strengthen families. Monadnock Region is widely recognized as optimal place to raise children.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

"Start Small. Thing Big" uses a Collective Impact approach (CI) to encourage and empower a community to discover and invest in its own solutions to social challenges. The financial sustainability of this approach is evidenced by the fact that in the first two years of existence, the organization facilitating "Start Small. Think Big" has been funded by the community's family and philanthropic foundations and businesses.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Traditional approaches to community challenges involve expert-led foci on problem solving. Our approach differs by blending 2 community impact models Collective Impact (CI) and Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to create change. Instead of experts, CI rallies citizens to address the root causes of social issues. It forges consensus among unusual partners and creates common agendas to focus resources on key determinants of wellbeing. AI supports CI by focusing on community strengths. Instead of highlighting problems, it encourages citizens to build on their community's positive assets.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Modern trends in prevention and holistic wellness are hallmarks of "Start Small. Think Big", the Monadnock Region's approach to children's wellbeing. When a 2012 assessment identified child welfare, economic opportunity & educational attainment as our most pressing challenges, the community realized it needed a different approach determining that early childhood investment (ECI) was the key to thriving children. Instead of 'reacting' to problems downstream and focusing on individuals, ECI invests in children when brain development is key and supports their families through holistic supports.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andre Wicks

Hi, for anyone considering taking a close look at this idea I rcommend perusing the website before asking lots of questions, it is evident that a tremendous amount of work has gone into the develoment of this idea.  Marjorie mentions this being a collective impact initiative, which is evident by the diversity of the implementation partners, but even more so by the evidence of community involvement in the creation of the vision for the quality of life comditions they wish to see improve.  Well done, Marjorie.

I'm curious to know a little more about "checks and balances", how you'll track progress and produce reports.  We are implementing Results Based Accountability and many of our partners are considering cost sharing the Results Scorecard tool for this.  I'm hopeful that your community reaches its goals.  There are a few REALLY good examples of a focus on early childhood education eradicating poverty.  One of those is out of Quebec, search YouTube for "Are we crazy about our kids."  


Andre Wicks 

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