The First 5 Association logo, which features a child's hand print

Connect. Reflect. Act.

Monday, February 5 - Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel &
The California Endowment - Sacramento, CA

Connect with colleagues and state officials, celebrate policy wins, hear about future Association plans, and share groundbreaking REDI and systems change practices.

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Keynote Speaker

Elliot Haspel

Author of Crawling Behind: America's Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It and Senior Fellow at the think tank Capita

Elliot Haspel is a child & family policy expert and commentator.

He specializes in early care & education issues and the intersection between early childhood development and climate change. Elliot is the author of Crawling Behind: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It as well as several policy reports. He has appeared on television as an analyst, including on The PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff and MSNBC’S American Voices with Alicia Menendez.

His writings have appeared in a variety of top publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. In 2021, Elliot was invited to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives on the care economy. Elliot holds an B.A. in History from the University of Virginia and an M.Ed. in Education Policy from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He lives in Colorado with his spouse and two daughters.

Event Speakers & Facilitators

Event Agenda

This year, we will follow our Annual Meeting with Advocacy Day 2024, which will be held in person for the first time since 2019.


Monday, February 5, 2024

Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel

11:00 AM

Registration Opens

1:00 PM

Home Visiting Coordination Regional Meetings
Facilitated by Home Visiting Coordination regional leads or designees

These meetings provide opportunities for Home Visiting Coordination regions to meet and discuss current projects and progress.

Who should attend?
First 5 commissioners and staff who are engaged in First 5 California’s Home Visiting Coordination grant implementation.

2:30 PM

Regional Meetings + Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) Focus
Facilitated by First 5 Association Regional Representatives

This annual tradition provides space for First 5 colleagues to connect in their geographic regions and discuss top of mind issues for their commissions, best practices, plans for the year, and other relevant topics. This year, the Regional Meetings gathering will have an intentional focus on discussing REDI successes, challenges, and questions within the regions. This session is facilitated by the First 5 Association Regional Representatives who sit on the Association Board and First 5 commissioners and staff from all disciplines are invited to attend.

Who should attend?
First 5 commissioners and staff who want to connect with colleagues in their region and discuss REDI successes, challenges, and questions.

4:00 PM

First 5 Leadership Network Cohort Gathering
Facilitated by Kristine Dobson and Avo Makdessian

This informal gathering will welcome Cohort 4 leaders into the First 5 Leadership Network (F5LN) and with a discussion on how F5LN members can practice statewide inclusivity, common projects, focus areas for alumni, and future gatherings.

Who should attend?
First 5 Leadership Network alumni, Cohorts 1 – 4

4:00 PM

Fiscal Workgroup

This informal gathering will create a space for participants in the First 5 Network Fiscal Workgroup to meet and discuss relevant topics of the day, including but not limited to: audits, projects, hands on learning, financial reports, contract management, maximizing revenue streams and other emerging challenges.

Who should attend?
Fiscal staff, Contracts staff, Executive Directors and any other staff who want to connect with the fiscal workgroup.


Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel

8:00 AM

Registration Opens


9:00 AM


LaWanda Wesley Ed.D, First 5 Sacramento Commissioner & Director of Government Relations for Child Care Resource Center, Land Acknowledgement

Fabiola Gonzalez, President, First 5 Association Board

Katie Albright, Chairperson, First 5 California Commission

9:30 AM

Keynote: National Perspectives on the Early Childhood Field, Childcare, and Shaping Policy Discussions
Elliot Haspel, Journalist and Author

Elliot Haspel is a nationally recognized child and family policy expert and commentator, with specialties in early childhood and education issues, as well as the linkage between childhood and climate. He is the author of Crawling Behind: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It. Elliot will provide the First 5 Network his perspectives on the state of early childhood policy progress, dialogue, and mental models in American politics and culture and provide insights on policy areas that are ripe for further advocacy.

Who should attend?
As a plenary keynote we encourage all Annual Meeting attendees to participate.

10:30 AM


10:45 AM

The Future of the First 5 Network – Shared Priorities and Expectations
Linda Fowells, Independent Network Coach and Consultant

Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, Executive Director, First 5 California

Avo Makdessian, Executive Director, First 5 Association of California

This interactive session will feature the power of the First 5 Network which includes 60 organizations (First 5 California, First 5 Association, and 58 First 5 County Commissions) and their various strengths, ambitions, challenges and constraints. Specifically focusing on the priorities that bind the Network and how Network members operate together to reach our collective goals.

Who should attend?
First 5 commissioners and staff

12:00 PM


1:00 PM

Measuring Success – Measuring Success: An Equity Orientation to Facts and Data 
Shamsah Ebrahim, Ph.D., Owner/Principal, Leading Edge Advisors

Ready to shake things up a bit? This session will take an equity-focused approach to data and evaluation that challenges traditional norms on what is viewed as truth, and what counts as evidence. It will introduce new ways to think about how we define, measure and communicate success, using examples and tools that can be put into use immediately.

Who should attend?
Anyone interested in defining, measuring, and communicating the success of First 5 programs, practices and policies. First 5 commissioners and staff focused on strategic planning, community programs and sustainability should attend.

2:00 PM


2:15 PM

Preventing Burnout, Building Resilience and Sustainability
Circles International

The work of First 5s is only as impactful as the wellness and resilience of its leaders. This session will provide insights, frameworks, and tools to avoid burnout and practice wellness to ensure First 5 leaders are at their best to support children, families, and systems change.

Who should attend?
First 5 commissioners and staff

3:15 PM

First 5 Association Address and Recognitions
Avo Makdessian

Association Executive Director will provide a reflection of 2023 and preview focus areas for 2024. In addition, we will recognize outgoing Association Board members for their leadership contributions and welcome new Association Officers and Board members for 2024.

Who should attend?
As a plenary address all Annual Meeting attendees should participate.

4:00 PM


6:00 PM

Dinner and Reception


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The California Endowment

8:30 AM

Breakfast (light breakfast of pastries and coffee)

9:00 AM

Morning Keynote/Panel

9:30 AM

Advocacy Day Instructions
Courtney Armstrong

10:00 AM

Advocacy Day Meetings Begin

12:00 PM

Grab and Go Boxed Lunch

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Registration Process & Fees

When is the last date I can register to attend?

January 5, 2024 is the last day to register for First 5 Association’s Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day.

What is the registration fee for the Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day?


Can I pay the registration fee by check?

No. The registration fee for the Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day must be paid by credit card through Eventbrite when you register to attend. 

What does the registration fee include?

The registration fee includes: participation in Annual Meeting sessions, Advocacy Day activities, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Tuesday, breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, and associated collateral for the event.

Does the registration fee include hotel rooms?


How much are hotel rooms?

Hotel rooms reserved through First 5 Association’s block will be $215 per night, plus tax and fees. Contact the hotel at (916) 447-1700 to obtain current room tax and fee rates. 

Do I book my hotel room nights through Eventbrite registration or through the hotel directly?

Register for your hotel rooms using this First 5 Association block link. Room reservations are not being offered through Eventbrite this year. Once the room block sells out, we encourage you to book through the hotel directly, either by calling (916) 447-1700 or through their website.

Can I stay additional nights before or after the Annual Meeting?

Subject to hotel availability. We recommend calling the hotel and asking if they will honor the block rate for your extended stay.

Are there discount codes available?


Is parking included in my registration fee?

No. Parking costs are not covered by First 5 Association. Valet parking will be available for a discounted rate of $35 per day for members who have booked a room at Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel. For The California Endowment, parking will be available in nearby public lots.

Will I be required to put my credit card on file when I check in to the hotel?

Yes, attendees will be directly responsible for all financial aspects of their reservation with Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel.

Who is invited to attend the Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day?
All staff and commissioners of county First 5s are invited to attend.
What is the last date to cancel event registration and receive a refund?

Cancellations received on/before January 5, 2024 will receive a refund in the amount of the cost of their order, minus the Eventbrite processing fees (6.6% plus $1.79). Cancellations received on/after January 6, 2024 are non-refundable.


What do Travel Scholarships support?
The costs to travel to Sacramento may be higher for rural counties. Scholarships are intended to help offset the expense that rural, outlying counties face when traveling to Sacramento to attend the Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day.
How much financial support does a First 5 Association Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day Travel Scholarship offer?

Scholarship amounts are not preset for the 2024 Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day. We encourage small counties most distant from Sacramento to apply for a travel scholarship.

How do I apply for a First 5 Association Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day Travel Scholarship?

Please complete the First 5 Association’s Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day Travel Scholarship request form.

*Do Not Register for the event until you have received the results of your application. If you are awarded a scholarship, we will provide you with a discount code for Eventbrite’s registration to our event.

When is the deadline to apply for a First 5 Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day Travel Scholarship?

11:59 p.m. on Thursday, November 30, 2023.

When will I be notified of the results of my scholarship request?

Applicants will be notified by December 15, 2023 if they have been awarded a scholarship.

Travel To/From

What is the address of Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel & The California Endowment?

Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel
1230 J St, Sacramento, CA 95814

The California Endowment
1414 K St #500, Sacramento, CA 95814

What is the nearest airport?

The Sacramento International Airport (SMF) is located less than 15 minutes from Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel.

Do I need a rental car to travel to the hotel from the nearest airport?

No. Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel is a short Uber/Lyft/Taxi ride from the airport. Attendees driving to the hotel will be subject to parking fees ($20-47/day) so ride options will be less costly than renting a car.

Is there shuttle service for the guests?

No, Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel does not have a shuttle service to/from the airport.

Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day Content

What time does the Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day start and end each day?

The Annual Meeting’s first session will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, February 5, with registration opening at 11:00 a.m. First 5 Association will host a breakfast for all attendees on Tuesday, February 6. The Annual Meeting will continue around 9 a.m. on Tuesday with a keynote speaker and peer to peer learning sessions throughout the day. We will break from sessions to host lunch on Tuesday and dinner for all attendees on Tuesday evening. First 5 Association will host breakfast on Wednesday, February 7 with the agenda kicking off around 9 a.m. Attendees will be equipped with Advocacy Day directions before breaking for scheduled meetings at the Capitol. First 5 Association will provide grab-and-go lunches for attendees on Wednesday afternoon for Advocacy Day. 

Will there be free time to enjoy the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel?


Will the content from the Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day be broadcast live?


Will the content from the Keynote and/or other sessions be recorded and shared later?

Due to recording costs, it is unlikely we will record any of the sessions from this year’s Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day.

Do I need to schedule my own legislative visits?

No, First 5 Association will be scheduling your visits unless otherwise arranged.

When will I receive materials for Advocacy Day?

First 5 Association will provide talking points and materials in advance, along with a training on February 7.


What time is check in and out?

Hotel guaranteed check in time is 4 p.m., however, attendees are welcome to explore the property while they store your luggage until your room is ready. Checkout is at 11 a.m. and the hotel will store your luggage until you are ready to depart from your stay. 

Does Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel have a pool?

Yes, there is an outdoor pool.

Does Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel have a restaurant on site?
Yes, the Public Market Bar is open everyday from 6:00am to 1:00am.
What other amenities does the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel offer?

Complimentary amenities include fitness center, room service, daily housekeeping, wake up calls, and more.

Is internet in my room included?

No. Internet will be available for a fee through the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel for your room, meeting spaces and general premises.

Will my hotel room have a desk that I can work at in between Annual Meeting sessions?

Yes, each room includes a desk (in addition to standard furniture).

Does the property require guests to wear masks?


For more information about the hotel visit:


Will First 5 Association be providing COVID rapid tests for attendees?

No. Attendees are encouraged to self-test as needed and take precautions to ensure the safety of their peers. While subject to change as the event nears, at this time, First 5 Association will not be requiring COVID testing or masks.

Does the property require guests to wear masks?


What precautions will First 5 Association be taking in relation to COVID?

While we will not be requiring masks and testing, we encourage attendees to take necessary precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We will have hand sanitizer and masks available in gathering rooms for guests to use as they choose.

Things To Do

What things are there to do in our free time?

Sacramento is the city that never disappoints! Whether you’re a foodie or an art lover, an outdoor enthusiast or a music aficionado, Sacramento has something for everyone. Explore its vibrant neighborhoods, indulge in culinary delights at its many restaurants, immerse yourself in the rich cultural scene of museums and galleries, or get lost amidst the stunning murals that grace every corner. 


For additional information or questions not answered here, please contact

We can't wait to see you in February!

Katie Albright, JD

Katie Albright, J.D., is an attorney and family advocate with more than thirty years of legal and non-profit executive experience. 

Albright served as the Chief Executive Officer and President of Safe & Sound for the past sixteen years, joining at the time it was called San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center. She now serves as Senior Advisor to focus on statewide policy to advance the well-being of children and families in California. Safe & Sound is a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to improving the safety, health, and well-being of children and families through service, education, collaboration, and advocacy. Under Albright’s leadership, Safe & Sound—named one of nine best primary abuse prevention practices in the country—launched local and statewide initiatives that improved family outcomes, contributing to a 67% reduction in rate of child abuse and 61% reduction in entries into foster over 15 years in San Francisco.

Albright’s prior experiences include San Francisco Deputy City Attorney representing our public schools; San Francisco Education Fund Policy Director leading a campaign to improve teacher quality and increase student retention; and, Preschool California (now Early Edge California) Co-Director of Policy & Outreach campaigning statewide for universal preschool. Prior to serving as an associate at Latham & Watkins and clerking for the United States District Court in Maryland, she co-founded and taught in the Kayole-Gitau Nursery School & Community Center in Nairobi, Kenya.

Courtney Armstrong

Courtney Armstrong is the Director of Government Affairs for First 5 Association. Prior to joining the Association, Courtney worked in HIV, hepatitis C and STD policy and advocacy, serving as the Senior Policy Officer at the LA County Department of Public Health’s Division of HIV and STD Programs and before that as the Vice President of Policy at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

In those roles, she was responsible for directing local and statewide legislative, budget and administrative advocacy work, and aligning the organization with partnership opportunities. She also provided leadership and coordination of the California End the Epidemics Coalition, a coalition of organizations and health departments from across the state calling on the Governor and Legislature to end the HIV, viral hepatitis, STD and overdose epidemics.

She received her Master of Public Health degree with an emphasis on Health Policy from the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley.

Kristine Dobson

Kristine Dobson is the Director of Finance and Operations for the First 5 Association of California. Kristine oversees budget and fiscal processes for the organization and projects.

Kristine plays an integral role in the organization’s REDI (Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) initiative and other operational goals. Kristine brings expertise, experience and energy across a range of areas including nonprofit operational management, fiscal and grants management, IT, marketing, HR and contracts management.

She is a collaborative, proactive systems builder and a creative problem solver with a continuous improvement mindset and skillset. Kristine has a background in operations executive leadership in technology startup companies and recently completed her law degree and passed the California State Bar Examination.

Shamsah Ebrahim, Ph.D

Shamsah Ebrahim, Ph.D. (she/her) is the Founder and Principal of Leading Edge Advisors, a social-sector consultancy working at the intersections of strategic learning, community impact, equity, and organizational improvement. Past clients include foundations, nonprofits of all sizes, school districts, coalitions, networks, and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

Shamsah brings extensive in-house experience leading multi-stakeholder initiatives focused on increasing equity and effectiveness in large matrixed organizations. Most recently, she spent two years with Silicon Valley Community Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic funders in N. America, establishing a Strategic Learning and Evaluation function to strengthen equitable grantmaking and community impact.

Shamsah’s commitment to equity in action is rooted in her experience growing up in Africa, Asia, and Europe, then arriving in the United States at 15 to be given new marginalizing identities: immigrant and woman of color. Shamsah is a recovering scientist, with a Ph.D. from MIT and a B.A. from Swarthmore College.

Linda Fowells

Linda Fowells is an independent consultant, coach and thought partner. She works with individual leaders, community and civic organizations, and multi-organizational efforts to strengthen their leadership, effectiveness, sustainability and impact. 

Linda brings unique cross-sectoral experience to her role, having worked in nonprofit, corporate, and government settings. With extensive expertise around strategy, organizational capacity, leadership development, networks and public policy, she has provided counsel to a broad range of organizations and collaboratives of varying sizes and stages of growth. Linda has guest taught at several colleges and graduate schools. She also writes and speaks publicly on topics such as civic engagement, networks and organizational effectiveness.

Most recently, Linda was executive vice president of Community Partners, where she played a key role in setting the strategic direction and generating opportunities for the organization. Previous roles at Community Partners include vice president of programs and public affairs, and director of several large initiatives.

Fabiola González, MPA

Fabiola (Fabi) González is the Executive Director of First 5 Fresno County (F5FC) and also serves as the President for the First 5 Association of California’s Executive Board. 

Fabi joined the F5FC team in 2009 and has since been proud to advocate for families with young children to have what they need to thrive – at home, at work, and in their communities. Over her tenure at First 5, Fabi has led policy, communications, and partnership efforts to raise awareness and support for families with young children in Fresno County. As Executive Director, Fabi is focused on ensuring F5FC leverages public, private, and community-based partnerships so that children growing up in Fresno County, no matter their circumstance, have the healthiest start possible.

Fabi is an immigrant to the United States having been born in the city of Guadalajara in Mexico. She was raised by her single mother, an aunt, and her grandmother until the age of 13, when she arrived at California’s Central Valley to join her mom. Before joining the First 5 team, she worked for the Latino Issues Forum- a public policy institute, a congressional district office in the Central Valley, and was a Fellow with the Great Valley Center. Fabi is a proud mom of two daughters and shares the wonders of teen parenting with her husband, Saúl

Avo Makdessian

Avo Makdessian is the Executive Director for the First 5 Association of California, where he leads the strategy and direction of the Association, which represents the 58 county First 5 commissions, as well as its complementary Foundation, and the First 5 Center for Children’s Policy.

In his prior role, Avo was Vice President of Silicon Valley Community Foundation where he led a team focused on connecting philanthropists to community investment opportunities, funding actionable research, impact investing, and multi-sector collective impact initiatives. Avo is the founding director of the foundation’s Center for Early Learning – a comprehensive center of grantmaking, research, and state/local advocacy for young children and families. He also led the foundation’s regional grantmaking for COVID-19 response providing millions of dollars to support families with affordable housing, food, and financial assistance.

Prior to joining the foundation, Avo was Policy Director of First 5 Santa Clara County where he implemented First 5’s research agenda, public policy advocacy, and community outreach efforts.

Eliza Ramos, MPH, MSW

Eliza Ramos is a facilitator, leadership coach and organizational development consultant. She is the founder and Chief Integrity Officer at Circles International. CI supports social justice leaders and organizations to cultivate wellbeing and prevent burnout. Their work focuses at the intersections of wellbeing, leadership development, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 

During her previous career as a social worker and global health practitioner, she witnessed a high rate of fatigue and burnout, and realized that burnout prevention was crucial in order to sustain any social change movement. She began to focus her energy on wellness and resilience circles for those in high-impact leadership roles, and soon after CI was born. She believes that leaders thriving is our greatest asset; in order to create lasting change, a trauma-informed and healing-centered approach must be prioritized as a leadership skillset, and is a skillset that can be learned and cultivated by every leader working toward social justice.

Prior to CI, she was a strategy consultant for various social impact organizations in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, India, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. She has developed mental health and community engagement programs for organizations such as Global Health Corps, Partners in Health, New York Presbyterian Hospital, and UNICEF.

Commissioner LaWanda Wesley

LaWanda Wesley, Ed.D. joined the First 5 Sacramento Commission in fall 2023 and brings over 25 years of expertise in early learning and education and quality child care all with an advocacy and policy lens. LaWanda is the Director of Government Relations at the Child Care Resource Center and she had immediate contributions to help cultivate the First 5 mission. 

As an early learning educator and former preschool teacher and administrator, LaWanda’s dedication and passion is in service of children and families most impacted by historical and structural oppression. She co-founded Black Californians United for Early Care and Education and was Co-Director for the Center for Equity in Early Childhood Education.

LaWanda is also the co-author for Culturally Responsive Self-Care Practices for Early Educators and Trauma-Responsive Practices for Early Childhood Leaders: Creating and Sustaining Healing Engaged Organizations.

LaWanda brings a passion to uplift and empower parents through her professional and personal experiences. She has inspired civic engagement as a speaker for First 5 Sacramento Parent Leadership Training Institute.

Jackie Thu-Hong Wong

Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, a refugee born during the fall of Saigon and the first woman of color is the Executive Director of First 5 California. Ms. Wong brings more than three decades of experience working as an advocate for equity, health and education for children, youth and families in the state. Her formal training and background as a social worker has made it possible for Ms. Wong to share her expertise with diverse communities, specifically helping children thrive to achieve their full potential. 

Previously, Ms. Wong served as First 5 California’s Chief Deputy Director, helping transform the organization toward its new North Star to create safe, stable, nurturing, relationships and environments for California’s youngest children and their families. She also helped families overcome the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, address adverse childhood experiences, remove barriers to equity, and tackle the systemic issues affecting California’s families.

Prior to joining First 5 California, Ms. Wong, M.S.W served as the Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for GRACE, an anti-poverty organization that manages the End Child Poverty in California Campaign (ECPCA) aimed at ending deep child poverty and reducing child poverty in the state. Under her leadership, in coalition with several anti-poverty advocates, ECPCA was able to secure over $4 billion in new funding to address child poverty, with a significant investment in education programs.