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Children's Summit: Making the connection

PALMETTO — Children went to play games and participate in activities, while parents hoped to find helpful information on child care at the county’s 15th Children’s Summit on Saturday.

Teresa Heffner brought her three kids because the summit each year helps her learn of new programs.

Heffner, who has a 13-year-old daughter and two sons ages 3 and 5, walked out of the health room clutching bags of information.

Heffner was able to have her daughter qualify for Medicaid to save on the family’s medical bills by talking to people at the summit, she said.

Several years ago, she had to pay her daughter’s medical bills in full.

If it weren’t for the summit, she said it would be harder for her to find resources and programs for her children in the community.

The summit offers free vaccinations, has eye exams, and educates parents about academics, programs and counseling for children, according to organizers.

The Manatee Convention Center was packed with close to 140 booths and tables offering parents information and activities for children ranging from coloring to video games to other entertainment.

An estimated 10,000 people attend the summit each year.

The event is organized by nonprofit organizations, Manatee County and the Community Services Department, said Mike Neuges, children’s services coordinator.

“Our mission is to connect resources and families to benefit the child and the community,” he said.

The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County uses the summit to educate families about its free, pre-kindergarten program, organizers said.

The booth had a colorful wavy background where children were able to draw different careers out of a tote. Young children received free books and others played games while parents looked at pamphlets and spoke with staff about child care and early learning.

An estimated 2,500 children are involved in the pre-K program, which uses public and private sites.

“It prepares them for the elementary school system. Events like this help more families learn this is available to them,” said Lisa Morrison, director of resources and development.