Best Start program officers and partnership members recently joined civic leaders, educators and community members at the 23rd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit, where topics included decision-making, constituent involvement and the importance of early education.

Attended by about 800 people on the University of Southern California campus, this yearly gathering also helped attendees develop strategies to shape policies and legislation, while providing them with the tools to improve the quality of life in their communities.

Of particular interest to the Best Start representatives was the “Early Education: Promise, Partnership and Policy” workshop, which highlighted the benefits of early childhood education and the importance of early learning through high-quality programs, parent partnerships, access, referrals and resources.

Marvin Espinoza, a Best Start senior program officer and a member of the Empowerment Congress’ Leadership Council, attended the event and noted that high-quality early childhood education is of particular interest to First 5 LA, and is a key outcome area in our new strategic plan.

“The early years are important in shaping the long-term health and success of our children,” he explained. “This event enabled community stakeholders to learn about the opportunities to engage with others to ensure we are able to continue supporting children’s early development.”

“This event enabled community
stakeholders to learn about the opportunities to engage with others to
ensure we are able to continue supporting children’s early development.”
-Marvin Espinoza

Ayala highlighted facts that demonstrated the value of increased enrollment in early childhood education. She stressed preschool can help a child to achieve kindergarten readiness, providing him or her with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school and life.

Another panelist, Duane Dennis, executive director of Pathways LA and a First 5 LA Commissioner, provided participants with literature that showed families how to identify and enroll their children in quality and affordable early learning programs.

Dennis also urged parents to contact Pathways LA and Crystal Stairs, Inc., which are part of a countywide Child Care Services Resource and Referral System, to learn more about the availability of licensed child care in their community.

Also attending the event was Chris L. Hickey, Best Start Watts-Willowbrook Leadership Group member and executive director of Each One – Teach One, a nonprofit organization that focuses on early childhood education and community leadership.

“Early learning starts the stage for academic achievement throughout the rest of their lives,” said Hickey, who facilitated the Youth Summit at the event. “It also establishes a sense of self-respect and self-empowerment, and it’s a direct pathway to leadership in their family and community.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who organized the Empowerment Congress Summit, praised the attendees and stressed the positive impact of the event.

For 23 years, the Empowerment Congress has worked to increase public participation in government and community issues,” he said. “When we use our rights to advance community interests and increase civic engagement, we can secure victories such as a new train station at Leimert Park, the rebirth of a new MLK Medical Center campus, civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, and much more. If we stay on course, we can do tremendous things.”