He hails from a family of educators, with both of his parents and many of his siblings teaching in Denver Public Schools over the past few decades. You could almost say that education was in his blood from the start.

However, James Mejía didn't begin his career focusing on education. But in his pursuit of contributing to the Denver community, he has somehow found himself in the field where most of his family has been since the beginning.

"I'm one of 13 children," said Mejía, "And when you have a family like that, you can't do it all by yourself. My family relied on an education system, public and private, to make sure we could eventually contribute to the Denver community."

James Mejía is the CEO of the Denver Preschool Program. He was recently honored as the 2009 9NEWS Leader of the Year at the Colorado Leadership Alliance luncheon.

Approved by voters in 2006, the Denver Preschool Program, or DPP, provides a quality standard for both public and private preschools.

In 18 months, the DPP has brought together nearly 200 different preschools, which enroll nearly 5000 children. The program also provides tuition credits, allowing families to choose a high quality preschool for their children without worrying about finances.

"Particularly in these tough economic times, to have this resource available to families and help them pay for preschool is critical," said Abby Humphry, Director of Montview Community Preschool and Kindergarten.

For more than twenty years, Mejía has contributed to the Denver community, working with the City and County of Denver under former Mayor Wellington Webb, serving as a member of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, and for more than three years, managing the planning of the Denver Justice Center.

Mejía's diverse resume has a common thread: whatever the job or the task, Mejía is motivated by giving back to his community.

"Having served on the school board, and now in preschool," said Mejía, "I fully realize, if we are not catching children at an early age and giving them the right tools, I know where they're going to end up. I've seen it, and we've built it. And it's the justice system in Denver.

"If we're successful in what we're trying to do now, educate children at the earliest possible age, when their brain is still developing, and while they're still eager and earnest to be part of (the education process), we know what we wont have to do," said Mejía. "We know they wont be incarcerated, we know there are higher rates of home ownership and salaries. And they'll be encouraged to be a part of the fabric of the Denver community later on."

Please join us in congratulating James Mejía, the 2009 9NEWS Leader of the Year.