MANATEE -- Kids enjoyed games and activities as parents and guardians gathered information on community resources at the 18th Annual Manatee Children's Summit on Saturday.
"The key to this event is to inform families about important community resources," said Mike Neuges, human services manager with the Manatee County Community Services department. "We're in tough economic times and families need to
understand what's available in the area."
More than 5,000 people were expected to attend the event held at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
Kids climbed a rock wall, bounced on an inflatable, played carnival games and got their faces painted. Many adults joined in the fun, too.
Since starting in 1994, Neuges said the event has become more family-oriented, but the goal is still to provide community involvement and obtain feedback from residents.
"Families can share what kinds of things are important to them, what issues they have in their neighborhoods, what services are lacking," Neuges said."
People visited booths representing local schools, emergency personnel, extracurricular activities, after-school programs, community outreach groups and nonprofit organizations.
Budget cuts left last year's event without entertainment, but the void was filled this year with diverse groups from the community.
"By promoting local people, it gives an opportunity for the community to share its talent," Neuges said.
Rowlett Elementary School's drum line and choir kicked the program off following an opening ceremony where Palmetto City Commissioner Tamara Cornwell and County Commissioner Michael Gallen addressed the crowd.
Also taking the stage throughout the day was The Heat dance team from Manatee School for the Arts, Bostock Martial Arts, Texcalli, Maleesa Moore, Bradenton Twirling Academy, Stephanie Rios and the Manatee High School jazz band.
While waiting in line to have a butterfly painted on her face, Mya Bain, 7, said her favorite part of the day was seeing Texcalli flamenco dancers, "and you get to do activities."
Her mother, Alexsis Bain, said they have attended the event for several years.
"It gives you a lot of information about child care and other things you might not normally know about," she said.
Mia and Maya Gonzalez, both 5, took turns playing a bean bag toss game. The two wore beaded necklaces and temporary tattoos covered their arms.
When asked their favorite parts of the day, Mia shouted, "jumping," while Maya added "tattoos."
"We've come for the past five years," said Maria Vargas, who brought her own child and her nieces and nephews, including Mia and Maya. "The kids like it because they have fun and get prizes."
Susan Ferrarraccio and her husband started attending the Summit several years ago after losing their son to a drug overdose. They heard about the event while adopting their three granddaughters.
"We learn something every year we come," Ferrarraccio said. "It's something for the kids to enjoy."
One of her granddaughters, Aliya Barnett-Ferrarraccio, 6, said she enjoyed making crafts.
Jane B. Pratt Alternative Schools for Girls was one of the organizations providing a take-home activity. Kids mixed "gak," a putty-like substance, and customized the color.
The group was there to reach out to families about their available programs and remaining slots in their alternative and charter schools, said Dee Ralph, director of Just For Girls Alternative School.
"We're able to see parents and kids and also network with other community services agencies," Ralph said. "It's integral."
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.