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Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest county with 2.4 million people and larger than 16 states, is the home of what is increasingly seen as a national model for a community-wide high-quality early childhood initiative.

Miami-Dade is statistically the most diverse area in the United States (60% Hispanic, 22% black or African American, 18% non-Hispanic white, and more than half of its residents born in another country).

For all its pockets of wealth, Miami-Dade also has a significantly higher than the national average of underskilled, undereducated and impoverished.

In January 1999, a community-wide effort was launched on behalf of all children in their early childhood years.

The key convenor was David Lawrence Jr., the president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, who also has been a leader in The Children’s Trust, the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe, the Florida Partnership for School Readiness and a member of the governor’s Children and Youth Cabinet.

He is also “University Scholar for Early Childhood Development and Readiness” at the University of Florida.

The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation was inspired and founded by a generous and public-spirited Miami couple — Dr. Jane and Jerry Katcher — who believed that the early childhood years are especially critical to the future of children and the community.

The Katchers furnish the foundation’s core staff funding, and then the foundation raises the dollars for all its projects.