Pittsburgh’s Early Learning Soiree

by Shimira Williams, 2016-17 OCDEL Policy Fellowship Alumni 

I am Shimira Williams, a Pennsylvania Office of the Child Development and Early Learning Policy Fellowship alumni.  In early February I decided to host an Early Learning Soiree after attending a meeting at the Navus House in the Central Northside neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh. The venue was perfect for the evening the Homewood Child Care Associate members always talked about, during planning meetings. The members are home-based early learning providers that wants to host an evening to just relax and talk shop but not have a formal agenda and new activities to complete. Since I had access to the venue, I started planning an evening and here’s what I learned.   


Have a budget and vision for the atmosphere you want to create for the meet-up. First, ask how are you going to pay for it? Next, Who do you want in the room and what type of connections are you hoping to spark between the attendees?  Once you’ve answered these questions do some research: ask yourself who in your network can support your effort as well as what’s happening in your local, regional or national ecosystem?


For this initial meet-up, I was intentional about focusing on getting home-based early learning providers in a new environment so they might see themselves as business owners or community leaders. With this in mind,  I tapped into the City of Pittsburgh’s Inclusive Innovation Week, since there were no barriers to entry to participate. Once my idea was approved and added the Inclusive Innovation Week calendar I gained credibility and was able to secure the desired location for the meet-up.


Next, I reached out to my Pittsburgh-based colleagues from the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning Policy Fellowship to join me in doing five-minute ignite style talks about their work in early learning. They all graciously accepted the invite, and I looped in the fellowship team into the conversation. The Heinz Endowments funded the alumni cohort of the policy fellowship and noticed the event which how the conversation started about sponsorship.  It was unexpected but allow us to rethink our catering services and hire a photographer. For this event, I reached out to AxnFgr Visual to send a photographer to document the evening because I wanted to be a host.


The essential component to hosting any meetup or event is to be flexible and have fun. As a former early learning provider, I know that a definitive plan is necessary, but it can all go differently fast, and you need to be willing to adapt to people’s needs. The primary reason for organizing the meetup is to share resources amongst women business owner and executive in early learning and human services. Let the attendees relax; they spend the majority of their time taking care of children and supporting their families. Here are a few tips for hosting an early learning meet-up in your area.  



Do a little research to discover where you can gain support or who you can align with to implement your idea. Do not limit your search to a local event, consider regional and national initiatives and hashtags. The Early Learning Soiree was April 6, 2018, which overlapped City of Pittsburgh Inclusive Innovation Week (#WeInnovatePGH)  and Month of the Young Child (#MOYC2018), plus it was able to use the common networking hashtag #FirstFriday. In your discovery phase answer these questions.


  • Do you belong to any groups or organizations that can assist or support your idea?
  • How does your idea align with what your community’s need?
  • Are there funding opportunities available?
  • Review the local calendar, what’s around happening in the area?
  • What hashtags and keywords can you utilize?



Location is key to setting the atmosphere and accessibility to meetup. Over the years while participating in the Homewood Child Care Association we had discussed have a meetup. I am in a Facebook group for Pennsylvania providers, in central PA they host a meetup at local restaurants. Find a location that works for you and the be people you want in the room. When you are evaluating a place, ask these questions.

  • Do you want attendees to engage in a specific activity? If so what does it require a particular environment?
  • Is the space handicap accessible?  
  • Will this be a family-friendly environment?
  • What is your parking needs and is it accessible via mass transit?



Invite the people you want in the room. Take the time to invest in sending certain people a physical invitation. Also, create an online registration channel to communicate with potential attendees. Then share this information with your network and ecosystems to spread the word about your meetup. If the event, is closed to a targeted group of people do an invite-only using a link. Here are few free online platforms I utilized to create marketing materials.

  • Canva is a tool that makes it possible to design anything and publish anywhere. With its user-friendly drag and drop tool. With Canva, you can easily create beautiful documents & designs for any occasion and purpose.
  • Eventbrite is a platform to help you build, manage, and grow your events that integrates seamlessly with Facebook Events.
  • MailChimp is an marketing automation platform that help customers find their audience, engage their customers, and build their brand.
  1. LET EAT!

I’m a firm believer of doing what’s in your budget. Be creative and find a partner with your local ecosystem, consider a local catering service provider or local farmer. I will admit that Pittsburgh is very fortunate to have a plethora of options and a supportive community.


Meeting at a local eatery is always an option. I still recommend contacting the location in advance, to set a reservation and see if there synergies. It can be something as simple as agreeing to host your meetup of their slow night so they can accommodate your group and it gives the bump in sales.

Who in your local ecosystem can support refreshments for the meetup?

Remember, closed mouths don’t get fed.  



Create a method to collect contact information to follow-up with who’s in the room after the meetup. It’s as simple as taking a picture with your cellphone and sharing on social media. Before you share, get permission from the people. Keep it simple. Create a traditional sign-in sheet that includes a release opt-in. The form should capture attendees Name, Telephone, email address and media release option. Don’t forget to follow-up with a thank note to all the attendees as well as sponsors and partners.


Photo Credit: Raymond Carrington

Location: Navus House, Pittsburgh PA