Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From Katrina to KidStart - Commitment to Service Drives New Children's Program Chief

The prospect of directing a not-for-profit children's program was far from Chris Lynch's mind in February of 2007, as he served meals to thousands of homeless residents in Biloxi, MS and helped local families to rebuild their homes after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

But it was that fateful trip, taken with his wife Mitzi and about 20 other Livingston CARES volunteers, that laid the foundation for the Geneseo resident's future with KidStart, the children's services division of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming.

"We served about a thousand meals each day, and were also given other assignments such as installing insulation and drywall.  I got so much more out of the experience than I ever thought I could," Mr. Lynch explains.  "From that point, I knew that when I retired, my next step would be some type of service.  I thought about Habitat for Humanity because of its similarity to my Katrina experience, but then an opportunity arose at KidStart.  It was very appealing because my whole career has been working with children."

Mr. Lynch joined the KidStart team as a consultant in September 2010, two months after retiring from his position as Principal at Dansville Primary School.  Among his responsibilities: managing KidStart's ongoing Opening Doors capital campaign, which seeks to offset costs incurred from relocating the program from a SUNY Geneseo facility that is earmarked for demolition into the Lehman Building, a new school in Groveland.  Thus far, the campaign has raised more than $400,000 toward its $800,000 goal.

On January 1, Mr. Lynch's priorities will evolve once again, when he assumes the post of KidStart Director, overseeing a multi-faceted early childhood center that encompasses Special Services, Day Care and Head Start programs.

Mr. Lynch brings 15 years of leadership experience to the position, as a Primary School Principal at Dansville and Livonia Primary Schools.  He has also held positions as Teacher, Counselor and Director of Pupil Personnel Services throughout a career in education that spans 35 years. 

At KidStart, Mr. Lynch will succeed Director Margaret Harrington, who plans to retire in August.  Mrs. Harrington has held the position of KidStart Director throughout an 18 year period of program growth.  During her tenure, KidStart's Day Care and Head Start programs have doubled in size, while its Special Services offerings evolved to include a comprehensive suite of therapies for children with special needs. Today, KidStart has an annual enrollment of about 350 children, ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years, many of whom have disabilities or significant developmental delays.

"Chris has qualities that are strong assets to KidStart," Mrs. Harrington says.  "He is an experienced and qualified school administrator who knows local school district personnel, and he has a knowledge of, and familiarity with, the State Education Department.  He also has a keen interest in, and understanding of, young children."

"To me, the most important time for children is when they first start school," Mr. Lynch explains.  "As educators, we can help give them a good foundation to develop social skills, early language literacy skills, and the ability to get along with peers."  As Principal at Dansville, Mr. Lynch implemented and supervised a Universal Pre-Kindergarten program to help prepare four-year-old children for future school success by developing strong foundational skills.

But learning happens at every age, and Mr. Lynch is quick to point out that he has already learned some lessons of his own within the walls of the Lehman Building.  And those learnings make him thankful that the road from Biloxi led to KidStart.

"I remember in particular seeing the care and understanding that one KidStart direct care professional had for a young person with special needs," he says.  "I had seen them together throughout the year, in therapy and in the classroom. Then I watched them at the end of the year, in the playground with other kids.  He was sliding down a regular slide -- out of his wheelchair -- just laughing and having a great time.  Today, that child is in kindergarten, and I just know that he is better prepared to succeed thanks to that aide, and the KidStart staff as a whole."

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