More than 130 childcare providers, caregivers, social service professionals, and educators came together on Oct. 12 at Bethel New Life’s Amberg Hall, 1140 N. Lamon, for the first annual Austin Early Childhood Symposium.

The symposium was held by the Austin Early Childhood Collaborative, an initiative of Austin Coming Together (ACT), a community-based not-for-profit. The free half-day event featured breakfast, a panel discussion, four workshops, lunch, and an awards ceremony.

The symposium’s theme was Social and Emotional Development with a focus on how people can come together to support the social and emotional needs of young children in Austin.

Several vendors including the American Heart Association, SEIU Healthcare Fund, Community Organization and Family Issues (COFI), and The Chicago Children’s Museum were on hand disseminating healthful information.

“The symposium’s goal was to bring people together, anyone who is an advocate for or works with young children, birth to age eight and their families,” said Andrew Born, ACT’s director of community planning.

“We wanted to bring them together to provide them with training and some skills building opportunities, giving them information on how to be a better advocate for young children and their families, and coming together to raise awareness on the importance of early childhood and development,” he said.

ACT was organized to help Austin community partners develop shared leadership in four areas: early childhood development, youth development, workforce development, and the built environment, which includes planning, housing and economic development.

State Representatives LaShawn Ford and Camille Lilly partnered with ACT to present the symposium. Lilly said, “Early childhood development is the most important time in a child’s life, and ultimately that child is going to be a part of our life and our work force, so this kind of training is important.”

Ford said,” It’s clearly the mission we should be undertaking. Everyone talks about empowering parents, but this is what this is all about, empowering parents to meet the needs of our young people,”

The representatives were also there to present the prestigious awards to five early childhood professionals and advocates nominated by their peers and coworkers: Gloria Canada, Margaret Johnson, Blanco Trujillo, Barbara McPherson-Adams, and Gloria Harris.

Harris, a grandmother of 21, many of whom now attend Austin schools, said all 11 of her children went to early learning programs.

“I am passionate about early childhood education because I feel every child deserves a good education,” Harris said. “Because without an education, there is no success,” she added.

In accepting her award, McPherson-Adams said, “The other day I was thinking about whether or not I have been living my life, but now I have this, and I know that I have,” she added holding up her diamond clear award.

All four workshops were well attended by enthusiastic and engaged participants. Presenter of the “Maximizing Academic Growth with Social and Emotional Learning Workshop,” Dr. Durriyyah Kemp said, “It’s been remarkable, I am very very happy, especially with this being the first one. I think the turnout is great. I think the enthusiasm is great. The level of engagement and participation in my workshop was absolutely wonderful.”

Annie Robinson, an eager participant said it was an invaluable experience and that, “this event connected me with resources for (understanding) social emotional skills of children on every level. It also connected me with former classmates and co-workers in the educational field. I’m able to take it back to my community to make sure I do my part to educate our children.”

The Monday before the symposium, registration closed with 118 pre-registered and others wait-listed. Of the pre-registrants, 89 showed and others from the wait list and walk-ins were able to attend.

Those who attended were glad to be there.

Sidney Arnold, a home day care owner with his wife Faith said he learned how to focus on the business and educational side of child development. “I learned the importance of using the social emotional development skills of the child which will make me a better child care provider,” he said. ACT, now three years old, represents about 30 non-profit organizations and is funded by multiple sources including corporate grants and the annual dues of its membership agencies.