Selling their software company in 1999 freed David Couchman and Melanie Noble-Couchman to address something on their to-do list: Helping people in need.
Perhaps for different reasons, giving back has been important to both Couchmans for a long time.
According to the philanthropic couple, in 2009, there were nearly 200 private foundations in Sandy Springs with an asset base of $2 billion.
“We knew we wanted to have an impact on the community and help the economically disadvantaged,” said David Couchman.
The couple funded the Couchman-Noble Foundation with $2.5 million in 2003 to work with North Fulton organizations. Soon, Carolyn Axt, a good friend and community leader encouraged the couple to support Sandy Springs non-profits. Sharing Axt’s desire to address public school needs, the couple's foundation funded the Sandy Springs Education Force with a $250,000 commitment. [An earlier version of this story said the foundation funded SSEF with $2.5 million.]
In three years, the SSEF has created a successful afterschool program of 182 students at Sandy Springs Middle School. The five-day a week program includes an hour of academics followed by an hour of activities, such as dance, martial arts or robotics.
“The basic function [of SSEF] was to create community awareness and resources to address the needs of underserved youth in Sandy Springs,” said David.
David and Melanie married in 1983. Before moving to Atlanta from Buffalo, N.Y. in 1978, Melanie was a single working mother raising two sons on public assistance and food stamps, and earned her bachelor’s degree.
Today Melanie’s wish is for more people to embrace public schools and what they have to offer. “There are good reasons why people choose private schools, but we all benefit from a good public school,” she said.
Think real estate and the business environment, she added. “If we can create a [prepared] workforce in Sandy Springs, that is going to attract business and crime [will be] lower. We are all part of the community and if we don’t pull together, the community can’t thrive,” she said.
Melanie is the recipient of Sandy Springs’ 2011 Humanitarian Award.
David grew up in a diverse middle-class community in Baltimore, Md., where his parents taught him that education was power and giving back was a must, he said.
“My father was the first to graduate from college. He got his degree by going to night school for 14 years. He was really putting a lot of pressure on me and my brother to give back,” he said.
“We have a great country,” said an emotional David. “I think those that have, have a responsibility to help those that don’t by preparing them for their own opportunities. We need to do whatever we can…so when they graduate from high school, they know all the opportunities this country has.”
Folk Tale Literacy Event on Thursday
The Sandy Springs Education Force along with Altrusa International and other volunteers will hold a Folk Tale Literacy Event from 8:30-10:30 a.m., Thursday, at Ison Springs Elementary School.
Local storyteller Esther Culver will read tall tales to first-graders, and volunteers will lead other book activities. Each student will receive two books to take home.