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About Us

For 40 years, Start Early has been a champion for quality early learning and care, focused on closing the opportunity gap for our youngest learners.

Start Early was founded in 1982 as the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a nonprofit public-private partnership. Since the beginning, we have delivered best-in-class doula, home visiting and Early Head Start and Head Start programs and advocated for thoughtful policies and adequate funding at the local, state, and federal levels. From our roots directly serving families and children on Chicago’s South Side and rural Illinois, we have expanded nationwide impacting early childhood programs and policies with partnerships in 25 states. Our role as on-the-ground practitioners continues to be the bedrock of our expertise and source of innovation and leadership in the field.

Our story is focused on the idea that starting early and nurturing the attachments between children and adults are essential to a child’s present and future well-being. Decades of research have proven that quality early childhood programs are a smart investment. Our founder, businessman and philanthropist Irving B. Harris, understood that the best hope for leveling the playing field and allowing children to thrive is to invest in the earliest days and create intensive, long-term support for a developing child and their family.

The global coronavirus pandemic has dramatically exposed the lasting impact of historical and institutional racism. It has illuminated the root cause of why many communities are still under-resourced today. We know quality early childhood experiences are the solution to overcoming many of these inequities. And, every child deserves to have sustained, equitable access to the quality early learning and care that is critical to a child’s long-term success.

In the coming years, we will maintain our substantial presence in Illinois, focused on home visiting and doula services, early learning programs and the research and policy efforts needed to validate and scale our impact. We will also continue to expand our reach across the country, working with other early childhood leaders, providing professional development opportunities and consulting with partners and advocates to stand up for all families and young children. We believe that we are stronger when we collaborate — across sectors, disciplines and communities.

At Start Early, we are uncompromising in our shared pursuit to ensure that every child in America can reach their full potential in school and life. We are champions for early learning, and together, we transform lives.

Interview with Ounce of Prevention staff

The Ounce of Prevention Fund is founded as a nonprofit public-private partnership with matching grants from the State of Illinois and the Pittway Corporation

Began providing home visiting services in rural Illinois


Launched our first Head Start programming in Chicago, serving children and families living in the city’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood

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Center for Successful Child Development

Founded the Center for Successful Child Development (also known as the Beethoven Project), a comprehensive early childhood program for families with infants and toddlers on the South Side of Chicago living in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing development


Expanded Head Start operations by subcontracting with other community-based agencies

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Published “Head Start on Head Start,” a special report that helped lay the groundwork for the development of the federal Early Head Start program

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Helped advance creation of the Illinois Early Childhood Block Grant, which combined existing funding streams and required a percentage of them to support birth-to-age 3 programs

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Educare Chicago building

Opened Educare Chicago, from our roots in the Beethoven Project, an ambitious initiative to serve families displaced by the loss of public housing on Chicago’s South Side

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Based on success in Illinois, began partnering with advocacy organizations in other states to build their capacity to advance policies and increase investments in birth-to-age 5 program

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Educare Seattle Mother and son

In partnership with Buffet Early Childhood Fund, established the Educare Learning Network, a powerful network of birth-through-age-5 schools across the country

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Helped create Illinois’ Early Learning Council to ensure public funds are spent on effective early childhood programs and interventions


Helped make Illinois the first state in the nation to offer quality preschool to all 3 and 4 year-olds via the Preschool for All bill

Building on lessons learned in Illinois, began providing policy consultation to early childhood advocates and state and local systems leaders across the country

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Mother touching newborn's cheek

Launched the First Five Years Fund, a bipartisan advocacy organization that galvanizes support for greater investment and policies that increase access to high-quality learning and care

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Expanded training and technical assistance to over 100 community-based programs in Illinois


Successfully advocated for an increase in the percentage of early childhood funding spent on infant-toddler programs in Illinois

Along with First Five Years Fund and other organizations, successfully advocated for a new $4 billion federal investment in early childhood education

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Early childhood professional caring for baby and toddler

Doubled the number of infants and toddlers served in the Ounce Early Head Start program through partnerships with community agencies

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Won a $3 million Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education to explore innovations in leadership development

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Awarded Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant to bring leadership training to 300 programs in Illinois

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First Five Years Fund helped convene the White House Summit on Early Education

Along with First Five Years Fund and other organizations, successfully advocated for new $650 million federal Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Grant Program

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Early learning professionals taking training

Launched Achieve OnDemand, an online professional development platform for home visitors and their supervisors (now known as The Essentials of Home Visiting)

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Launched Lead Learn Excel leadership development program (now known as The Essential Fellowship)

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Took over as steward of the National Summit on Quality in Home Visiting Programs, a one-of-a-kind convening to address the most critical issues facing the home visiting field. Building off the strong foundation laid by our predecessor, The Pew Charitable Trusts, we continue to enhance the Summit’s quality and broaden its impact and reach

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Launched the Partnership for Pre-K Improvement (PPI) — a collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for Early Success and the University of Washington — to build strong partnerships in the early education field in the areas of program, advocacy and research across three states

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Mother looking at her son

Guided the launch of Family Connects Illinois, a universal newborn support system

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Launched the current five-year strategic plan with a goal of providing more young children from under-resourced communities with high-quality experiences by 2023

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Launched a pilot to expand the reach and application of the Early Education Essentials measurement system (now known as The Essential 0-5 Survey). The completion of the pilot and a validation study in 2021 will demonstrate the validity and reliability of the surveys in birth-through-age-5 settings.

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The Ounce rebrands to Start Early — a new name, logo and tagline to better articulate our mission, inspire action and more strongly reflect our expertise and collaboration in the early childhood field

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Launched the Early Childhood Connector, a co-designed, collaborative online community for advocates, partners, and leaders to connect and share knowledge, resources and expertise across state lines, disciplines and professions

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Opened office in Washington state, building on the state’s national leadership in home visiting and history of promoting early childhood education

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Teacher and student high fiving in classroom

Merged with the Early Learning Lab to drive stronger, more equitable solutions, programs and policies that center community voices & accelerate innovation in the early childhood field

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With leadership from the First Five Years Fund, garnered support for monumental federal actions, including the American Families Plan, which included transformative investments in national child care, pre-kindergarten and paid family leave

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