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Council Members & Staff

Please meet our Council and Staff:

Council Member List and Contact Information (Word Document)

Council Members

Debra Nelson

Debra Nelson, MS, is the Chair of the Council. 

Ms. Nelson represents the New Hampshire Head Start Collaboration Office as the State Director.  She joined the NH DHHS, Division for Children, Youth and Families as Head Start Collaboration Office administrator in January 2007, where she promotes access to quality services and collaboration between Head Start and early childhood programs/services at the state and local levels. Previously, she engaged in an array of projects for more than 16 years at the University of NH Institute on Disability/University Center for Excellence on Disability (IOD), serving as director, co-director, and evaluator of multiple federal, state and private foundation grants; assistant director of the IOD; and clinical assistant professor in the Child and Family Studies department. While at the IOD, Ms. Nelson secured over $2.93 million in grant funding to advance quality early care and education for all young children and their families. She received her master’s degree in early childhood/special education from the University of Oregon and has accrued over 25 years of experience in the early care and education field, including early intervention and preschool, family support, education, training and technical assistance, grant writing, research and evaluation, systems change and policy development. Ms. Nelson serves on numerous boards and committees and has co-authored several publications related to children and families. Ms. Nelson was the Chair of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Erika Argersinger

Erika Argersinger is the Vice Chair of the Council.

Ms. Argersinger represents New Hampshire Kids Count, formerally Children's Alliance of New Hampshire, and has worked for more than 15 years to advance the interests of children at the local, state, and federal levels. She has advocated on behalf of immigrant and homeless populations, Head Start children and families, in addition to her focus on child care, afterschool and other family issues.  Most recently, Ms. Argersinger was the Policy Director for the Washington, DC based Afterschool Alliance where she worked with policy makers and their staff to impact federal legislation and coordinated advocacy activities among state and local advocates. Before championing afterschool programming, Ms. Argersinger worked to advance early education as the Associate Director of Government Affairs for the National Head Start Association in DC and as the Research and Policy Associate for Associated Early Care and Education, Inc. in Boston, among other programs. She has also worked on and managed political campaigns at the city and state level. Ms. Argersinger believes education, including early education and afterschool programs, is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and this belief has guided her policy work. Ms. Argersinger received her undergraduate degree in political science from American University and her master’s degree in Applied Child Development and Public Policy from Tufts University.

Charna Aversa

Charna Aversa is the representative of the New Hampshire Interagency Coordinating Council.  Ms. Aversa feels fortunate to have found her passion in working with young children and their families. She has been in the field of Early Childhood Education for the past thirteen years. Ms. Aversa’s current position as the Disabilities & Mental Health Services Manager for Strafford County Head Start allows her to collaborate with Family Centered Early Supports & Services and five LEAs, coordinating services that support success for all children in an inclusive setting. Previously, She provided Title I services in an elementary school setting. Her educational background includes a B.S. in Family Studies, an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education and post-graduate coursework through the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. Ms. Aversa has been a member of the New Hampshire Interagency Coordination Council since 2007. Currently, she is the vice-chair of the NHICC and looks forward to serving on the Early Childhood Advisory Council as its representative. Ms. Aversa was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

JoAnn Cobb

JoAnn Cobb represents the New Hampshire Association for Infant Mental Health.  Ms. Cobb is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) who has worked for Child and Family Services (CFS) for nearly 20 years.  She is the Program Director for Early Childhood and Family Support programs state wide.  She manages all the CFS home visiting programs.  She is also the current president of the NH Association for Infant Mental Health. (NHAIMH) Ms. Cobb has been involved with NHAIMH for 16 years.  Her clinical expertise centers on families with young children, mental health and wellness, attachment, and social emotional development.  She has provided consultation, educational workshops and classes to both professionals and parents.  

Jackie Cowell

Jackie Cowell represents Early Learning New Hampshire.  Upon graduation from the University of Virginia, Ms. Cowell joined the Peace Corps and taught high school mathematics to French-speaking students in Mali, West Africa.  Ms. Cowell worked for 5 years for Save the Children in Sudan, running an emergency relief program and establishing a child sponsorship program aimed at funding local education.  For a total of 13 years, she directed two early childhood education programs: White Birch Community Center in Henniker and the Community Child Care Center in Portsmouth.  In Greenland, she helped establish the Community School of SAU 50, the first, combined preschool and full-day early learning program housed within the Seacoast area public schools.  In 2005, Ms. Cowell became the executive director of Early Learning NH, a nonprofit organization formed in 2003 from the successful merger of five, longstanding early childhood organizations with a mission to ensure all New Hampshire children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.  She has served as adjunct faculty in the Early Childhood Education department of the NH Technical Institute and currently serves on the NH Early Childhood Advisory Council.  In 2009, Ms. Cowell received the Exemplary Leadership and Community Partnership Award from the NH Division for Children, Youth and Families.  Under her leadership, Early Learning NH received the Mary Stuart Gile Award in recognition for its “commitment to the development of the next generation of early childhood professionals.”  Ms. Cowell was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Deirdre Dunn Tierney


Deirdre Dunn Tierney represents the Maternal and Child Health Section of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services as the Early Childhood Special Projects Coordinator.  She has worked for more than 25 years in both direct service and administration of early childhood and family support programs for young children and their families.  Ms. Dunn Tierney currently works to ensure the comprehensive systems approach to early childhood Title V programming that includes oversight of the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS), and Project LAUNCH grants.  She earned a Master of Science Degree in Early Childhood Education with a focus on Leadership and Policy from Wheelock College, Boston, MA. In addition to Spark NH, she serves on the Board of the NH Association for Infant Mental Health and is a member of the NH Child Care Advisory Council, the Injury Prevention Advisory Council, and Early Learning New Hampshire.  She has two grown sons and lives in Bedford, NH with her husband and their newly adopted Chihuahua mix.  She was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Kimberly Firth

Kim Firth represents the New Hampshire Philanthropic Community.  Ms. Firth is a Program Director at the Endowment for Health, where she manages a portfolio of grants, projects, and policy initiatives addressing children’s mental health and geographic barriers to health. Before joining the Endowment, she served as a Planning and Policy Analyst for the New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Health Planning and Medicaid.  She also served as the Grant Manager for the Health Care Fund, Community Grant Program, a public endowment created by the Legislature.  Prior to working at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Ms. Firth served as the Project Director for the Strafford County Domestic Violence Project, a federally funded initiative to create a multi-disciplinary prosecution team for domestic violence criminal cases in the county.  She also served as the Director and Program Coordinator for the AmeriCorps Victim Assistance Program, which used AmeriCorps members as advocates for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in District Courts and police departments. Ms. Firth received her Bachelor of Arts from New England College.

Lori Harris

Lori Harris represents the Child Care Advisory Council in NH. She is currently the chair of the Child Care Advisory Council and also works as a consultant and trainer; teaching courses and workshops in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut. Lori has her Master's Degree in Early Childhood Leadership and Administration from Wheelock College and an undergraduate degree in Music Education K-12 from the University of Maine in Orono.  She has worked as an early childhood teacher and center director for 18 years, most recently as the director of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center Child Care Center in Lebanon, NH.  Lori spent 10 years working for Work Family Directions in Boston, developing and managing training and accreditation projects across the country. 




Marti Ilg

Marti Ilg represents local providers of Early Childhood Education and Development Services.   Ms. Ilg is the Executive Director of Lakes Region Child Care Services, and an associate professor at Lakes Region Community College. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of New Hampshire, and is enrolled in the School of Business, at Southern NH University, pursuing an MS in Organizational Management. Ms. Ilg is credentialed by the State of NH Child Development Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services as Early Childhood Master Professional, Early Childhood Adminstrator Level 3.  Ms. Ilg serves on the steering committees of BETTER TOGETHER, the Lakes Region Financial Stability Partnership, Lakes Region Child and Family Coalition, and is a member of the Lakes Region United Way Speakers Bureau. She is also an advocate for state subsidized childcare as a member of Early Learning New Hampshire Network, and serves as the Co-chair of the Communications Committee of SPARK. Prior to her position at Lakes Region Child Care Services Ms. Ilg worked for the State of New Hampshire Community Action Program/Belknap Merrimack County Head Start. After a number of years living, working and starting a family in Japan and the Marianas Islands, Ms. Ilg and her family returned to the United States, and to her hometown. While her children were in elementary school she volunteered for a number of local organizations and was an Ozanam Place, and Child and Family Services, board member.

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis represents the New Hampshire Parent Information Center.  She is a parent of two young children (ages 6 and 4), one who has a physical disability and speech delay.  Ms. Lewis is chair of the Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC) and serves on the State Advisory Committee for Special Education.  In December 2009, she received the IDEA Infant Toddler Coordinator Association Regional Parent Leadership Award.  She has presented at many state and national conferences on parent involvement in special education.  Ms. Lewis is currently the Project Director for the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) project at the Parent Information Center and an early childhood transitions project, supporting early childhood professionals in their work with families and children transitioning from Part C to Part B.  She holds a M.Ed. in School Counseling and has worked with families and systems for over 15 years.   Ms. Lewis has successfully led numerous state and federal grant programs and initiatives, the majority of them focused on IDEA.    Ms. Lewis was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Ruth Littlefield

Ruth Littlefield represents Part B, Section 619 of IDEA.  Ms. Littlefield, M.Ed. is  former preschool special education teacher and has served as the NH Department of Education, Preschool Special Education consultant since 1992.  In this role, Ms. Littlefield manages the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) preschool special education grant.  She has been essential in supporting the development and implementation of the statewide Preschool Technical Assistance Network (PTAN) which promotes quality, developmentally appropriate and culturally competent programs for NH’s young children with special needs and their families.  In order to comply with federal requirements, , Ms. Littlefield worked with stakeholders to establish New Hampshire’s first Preschool Outcome Measurement System to measure progress for preschool children with disabilities.  Ms. Littlefield was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Tessa McDonnell

Tessa McDonnell represents the New Hampshire College and University Council.  Ms.McDonnell earned a bachelor’s degree in the Social Sciences from the SUNY – Potsdam, and a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from UNH in 1972. She worked in Head Start, preschools and elementary schools for 10 years.  Ms. McDonnell transitioned from being an early childhood educator to higher education by mentoring learners and teaching ECE courses for Granite State College.  She has continued to take graduate level courses in adult learning and higher education administration. Ms. McDonnell is currently Dean of Students and External Engagement at Granite State College.  Her responsibilities include creating partnerships with external agencies, businesses, community colleges and other organizations to deliver training and academic learning opportunities for workforce and professional development. She remains involved in early childhood education as project director for the CDB Tuition Assistance Program at GSC, is a member of various ECE committees and Task Forces, provides leadership for the DCYF E&TP foster parent training program and is a passionate advocate for young children and families.

Linda Saunders Paquette


Linda Saunders Paquette has lived in New Hampshire since 1975, when she enrolled in the third class of Franklin Pierce Law Center, now the University of New Hampshire School of Law. After graduating from law school, Linda directed the Elderly Legal Services Program of the New Hampshire Bar Association; was the Managing Attorney of the Belknap/Merrimack County Public Defender Program; and taught Evidence and Trial Advocacy at Franklin Pierce Law Center. Linda joined the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in 1996. While at DHHS, she held a variety of positions including Manager of the Administrative Appeals Unit; Chief Legal Counsel to the Division for Children, Youth and Families;  Deputy Director of Division of Behavioral Health, and Administrator of the Office of Improvement, Integrity and Information. She has consulted to several government agencies and has written and presented extensively on a variety of legal and substance use related issues.  Linda joined New Futures as Executive Director in October 2010. Linda has served on numerous nonprofit boards of directors, including the boards of NARAL–NH, the NH Bar Association, NH the Bar Foundation, and is a past-president of the NH Trial Lawyers Association. She currently serves on the board of NAMI-NH.  Linda lives in an earth-sheltered home in Contoocook with her husband and four dogs.

Julie Sackett

Julie Sackett represents the new Hampshire Head Start Directors Association.  She is currently the Director of Head Start, Early Head Start and Child Care programs for Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Inc.  Her prior experience in administration of Early Childhood programs includes 6 ½ years as Executive Director of Lakes Region Child Care Services, and 12 years as Owner/Director of a small child care center and preschool in Plymouth, called Toddle Town.  She has also has worked for Child Care Resource and Referral and as adjunct faculty at Plymouth State University.  In addition, she has served on the boards of the Lakes Region United Way and the Whole Village Family Resource Center in Plymouth.  Ms. Sackett has a BS in Business Administration from Plymouth State, an MS in Community Psyhology with a focus on Drug and Alcohol Services from New Hampshire College (now Springfield College), and an MEd from Plymouth State.  Her family has often been compared to the Brady Bunch, as she has two young adult sons and four step children ranging in age from 9-20, in addition to her primary household that includes her husband and 5 year-old son.

Carolyn Stiles

Carolyn Stiles represents the Department of Health and Human Services, Part C of IDEA.  She is the Coordinator of the Family Centered Early Supports and Services (FCESS) Program, which is partially funded through the Part C of the IDEA (2004).  In this capacity she is responsible for ensuring that early intervention services are provided through the FCESS program in accordance with federal law and state rules and maintaining contact with the Federal oversight agency, the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education. Ms. Stiles has worked in the field of early intervention for the past 20 years, 6 of which were as a home visitor in an early intervention program.   She currently collaborates with other early childhood representatives on early childhood initiatives including the Early Childhood Advisory Council, Family Resource Connection, Early Hearing Detection and Intervention, and many others. Ms. Stiles has a diverse background including 12 years as a classroom teacher working in classrooms both in special education and regular education.  Twenty-two years in the Naval Reserve Hospital Corps gave her a unique perspective of the medical field and the impact of the reserves in the community in time of peace including assisting with moving a civilian hospital. Ms. Stiles was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Patricia Tilley

Patricia Tilley represents the Maternal and Child Health Section of the New  Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services as the Title V Administrator. She oversees an array of programs assuring statewide access to health care services for pregnant women, children and families, including:  primary care, prenatal, and child health services within the State’s community health centers; family planning services; newborn hearing and metabolic screening; Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Counseling; home visiting; injury prevention; abstinence education; and health and safety consultation to child care. Ms. Tilley serves on a number of statewide coalitions and task forces, including, among others: the NH Department of Education Non-Public School Advisory Committee, NH Maternal Mortality Review, NH Newborn Screening Advisory Committee, NH Birth Conditions Advisory Committee, and serves as a Trustee of New London Hospital.   Ms. Tilley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Developmental Psychology from Hampshire College, Amherst, MA and a Master of Science Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. She currently lives in New London, NH with her husband and 2 daughters and 2 overweight dachshunds.  Ms. Tilley was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee.

Ellen Wheatley

Dr Wheatley is the Child Development Bureau Administrator at the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families.  In this capacity, she has led collaborative public-private partnerships to redesign the NH Child Care Scholarship Program and the NH Early Childhood Professional Credential System. Dr. Wheatley participates in statewide leadership initiatives such as the NH Early Childhood Advisory Council and national professional development initiatives such as providing the plenary address at the 2010 National Zero To Three Training Institute.  She is also a 2011 graduate of Leadership NH. Her area of expertise is infant and early childhood mental health.  She co-founded and was the first President of the New Hampshire Association for Infant Mental Health.  As a ZERO TO THREE Mid-Career Fellow, Dr. Wheatley worked with the New Hampshire Association for Infant Mental Health and State Program Administrators to develop regional infant mental health teams. Dr. Wheatley has worked in several domains of the early childhood profession.  She has worked in public schools, Head Start, early intervention, services for preschool children with mental health diagnoses, toddlers who were born at low birth weight and children of refugee families from Cambodia and Laos. Dr. Wheatley has a Ph.D. in Child Development from Texas Women's University.  Her bachelor and master’s degrees are in music therapy. Dr. Wheatley was a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Steering Committee, and is the former Chair of the Council.

Monica Zulauf

Monica Zulauf’ represents Family Support New Hampshire.  Ms. Zulauf's professional non-profit background spans three decades, having worked throughout NH in a variety of non-profit settings.  Her primary interests are in non-profit management, program and leadership development and sustainability. Ms. Zulauf has been the Executive Director at YWCA NH since 2007, prior to that she worked for 10 years at the HUB Family Recourse. Ms. Zulauf is the President of Family Support NH and served as Priority Leader for New Hampshire Child Advocacy Network, leading one of four 2010 priority issues for children, to reduce bullying in NH schools. Among numerous other local and statewide coordinated efforts, she is Co-Chair of Manchester’s Weed and Seed Violence Prevention Committee, serves on the Crime Prevention Taskforce, and the NH Child Welfare Committee.

Council Staff

Laura Milliken

Laura Milliken is the Director of Spark NH Early Childhood Advisory Council.  Ms. Milliken is an attorney who has spent her career advocating for the rights of low income individuals and their families. She began her work at New Hampshire Legal Assistance in Berlin and Claremont.  Ms. Milliken served as Coordinator of the District Court Domestic Violence Coordinating Councils, bringing together interdisciplinary groups to aid victims of domestic violence and their families and served as a member of the Governor's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence.   Most recently Ms. Milliken worked providing legal counsel to low income people and their families in family law matters at Legal Advice and Referral Center.  Ms. Milliken has trained as a Guardian ad Litem.   She received her undergraduate degree in political science from the Barnard College of Columbia University, and her Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law.  She lives in Concord with her husband and two sons.

Katie Brissette

Katie Brissette began her career with Early Learning NH, a nonprofit organization committed to ensuring that all New Hampshire children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, in 2003 as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.  She is currently their Director of Outreach and Support responsible for providing support to the early childhood field, member services, and executing their annual conference which brings together over 500 early childhood professionals.  Through the years Ms. Brissette has also worked for the Every Child Matters Education Fund, the NH Women’s Policy Institute, and most recently the Seacoast Early Learning Alliance.  Ms. Brissette has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of New Hampshire and lives in Concord with her husband, Nathan, and their three young daughters, Ella, Adalyn and Finlee.

Heather Rogers

Heather Rogers is a Families in Transition AmeriCorps VISTA, and Spark NH’s first full-time VISTA. She graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Administration and Policy with a focus in public health, and a minor in Sociology. She grew up in Hampton, NH and after living in Baltimore for 4 years, she has moved back to Hampton for her year of service with Spark NH.