Palmetto — Most families at the 16th annual Manatee Children’s Summit on Saturday didn’t come prepared with a game plan.
There wasn’t a feeling of urgency among the thousands who attended this year’s event in the Manatee Civic Center. Just the organized chaos of families strolling through and taking their time at the more than two dozen booths.
“We went to the school booths and learned about Florida virtual schools and the new virtual schools in Manatee County,” said Tiffany Bell, 39, of Palmetto. “This is really beneficial, everything you need to know right here.”
She also spoke to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office representatives and got information on gang prevention.
The summit is the area’s largest expo for parents and children, with its mission to give families the chance to explore after-school, mentor and substance abuse prevention programs, along with myriad others available to them.
“We have all the resources right here in one place,” said Mike Neuges, human resources manager for the community service department of the Manatee County government. “When you go to a booth, you are provided with information and the kids have a fun activity to do.”
Many of the organizations present encouraged this year’s theme — “Reaching the Summit: Climb to the Top” — with banners and activities that encouraged the theme.
At the Child Abuse Prevention Coalition of Manatee County booth, children played on a slide and fished for beaded necklaces while parents got information on their services. The Manatee County Citizens Review, along with many other organizations, provided face painting, and Florida Kid Care did crafts.
Parents also were given the opportunity to get their children immunized for free by the Florida Department of Health and get their driver’s license renewed.
For Melissa Trickle, the summit was a way to prepare for the school year. She was among the more organized setting her sights on child safety and care.
“I came because my daughter is going to kindergarten next year,” said Trickle, 35, of Bradenton. “I like that there are a lot of different things here.”
To Rebekah Colvin, who came with her five sons, all the booths were a learning experience.
“This is my first time here in a while. I was happy with all the good information I got,” said Colvin, 32, of Bradenton. “I liked the Young Marines booth. They seem to have a lot of good after-school activities for the kids.”
One of the more popular stops for parents was the booth for Manatee Memorial Hospital.
“They had a lot of good information on child care,” said Nina Browben, 26 of Palmetto, who came with her 1-year-old daughter, Vanessa Johnson, in her arms. “This is my first time coming to this and I am enjoying myself.”
The hospital provided children with information on cleanliness, toys, snacks and other items.
“We are here for all the children of Manatee County from birth to pediatrics,” said registered nurse Becky Bouchard, manger of pediatrics and the neonatal intensive-care unit.
While parents and children alike left the summit with bags of and information, Bobby Colvin was just glad he had a good time.
“The food and the free stuff were my favorite parts,” said Bobby, 9. “I had fun.”