Summit will address early childhood challenges

May 10, 2017




Gainesville Sun
By Aida Mallard

Early childhood advocacy awareness, local programs and resources will take center stage at the Early Childhood Advocacy Summit with speakers, workshops and tips from experts, with networking and lunch in the mix.

Hosted by Innovative Dads Inc., the summit will be held from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday at CareerSource North Central Florida at 10 NW 6th St. The summit is free and open to the community, but those attending must RSVP via email at or by calling 352-283-2185.

Founded by Pastor Gerard Duncan, pastor of Prayers by Faith Family Ministries, the mission of Innovative Dads is to encourage fathers to take responsibility for their children’s physical, fiscal, and emotional well-being and to promote strong family and co-parenting relationships.
Duncan said the summit is an Innovative Dads’ initiative to bring awareness to the barriers and challenges faced by families with children, especially those with children from birth to 5 years of age.

“A lot of families need programs and Gainesville is rich in resources, but connecting resources and families have been a challenge,” Duncan said.

Reached by phone, guest speaker Zachary Gibson, director of the Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection and Chief Child Advocate, said he will talk a lot about relationships, and most importantly, the relationship tied to children and parents.

“It’s never too early to advocate for your child,” Gibson said. “The sooner we build those skills and habit, the more opportunity our children will have.”

Gibson said he hopes participants will come away inspired and see the value in intervening early with children and families. “And are willing to talk to their family, circle of friends, and people on their contact list to have a positive conversation of issues and challenges and to consider the difference each of them can make through their time, talent and treasures.”

Representatives from local agencies will offer 15-minute workshops running concurrently. They are:

* Luz Semeah, program manager of Opportunity Quest at CareerSource NCF, a program to assist unemployed parents with training and child care support.
* James Lawrence, director of Gainesville4ALL, an initiative to address racial and social issues in the community.
* Andi Leybrand, training and curriculum coordinator of Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County.
* Mona Gil de Gibaja, consultant in the Child Advocacy Infant program at WellFlorida Council.
* Hannah Rios, program manager of the Advocacy, Nurturing of Infants and Young Children program at Healthy Start of Alachua County.
* Cathy Winfrey, program manager at University of Florida Healthy Families.
* Elizabeth Patton, licensed medical counselor and director of student affairs at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy.
* Natalie Strappy, executive director of the Early Learning Development and The Parent Academy.
* Hannah Green, adoption recruitment specialist at Partnership for Strong Families.
* Erica Jackson, manager of the Partnership for Strong Families resource center at the Cone Park Branch Library.

Strappy, who will discuss advocacy for kindergarten readiness and speak about parents with school-age children, said “we’re all committed to helping children and to figure out how we can work together to accomplish this.”

Duncan, who expects 100 people to attend the summit, said he hopes they will take advantage of the information offered.

“I hope they will network with other organizations or receive information and resources that will help them to identify overlapping or gaps of service,” Duncan said.

Early childhood summit

What: Early Childhood Advocacy Summit, with speakers, workshops and tips from experts
When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday
Where: CareerSource North Central Florida, 10 NW Sixth St.
Miscellaneous: Please RSVP via email at or call 352-283-2185
Information: Call 352-283-2185 or visit

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