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Join us for this Exclusive Event!

The Association for Early Learning Leaders (AELL) believes program excellence begins with strong leadership. Owners and Executive Leaders play a key role in shaping early care and education. The Executive Invitational Series is an annual event featuring collaborative training and networking with Owners and Executive Leaders from around the country and beyond. Space is limited and participants must meet certain criteria in order to be eligible to attend.

National child care legal expert Ron McGuckin and successful multi-site owners Mary Hornbeck and Alix Hall, along with invited industry and business leaders, lead in-depth sessions and discussions. Key topics guide the sessions, but the group and its current needs and challenges formulate the true content. Participants share their challenges and successes while brainstorming new ideas and action steps that can be implemented when they return to their programs. This event provides networking opportunities uniquely designed to promote professional connections, resources, and relationships that support your executive leadership role for years to come. First time participants are required to attend a set of standard training sessions that will lay the foundation for ongoing training and engagement. Revitalization plays a key factor in leadership success and ample time is built into the schedule for relaxation, relationship building and recreation.

Dates and Location

February 12 – 16, 2024 (Extended days available)

Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun Resort  | Cancun, Mexico

Please do not register for this event until you have received notification that your application has been approved.

About The Conference

The Executive Invitation Series is a collaborative institute with a small group of Owners and Executive Leaders of early learning programs from around the country.


Please do not register for this event until you have received notification that your application has been approved.

Conference Sponsors



Who Should Attend?

Owners include listed proprietor(s) as well as next generation succession if currently serving in leadership role of a program(s) that provide direct early care and education for young children.

Senior Executive Leaders include organization Senior VPs and Senior Regional/National Executives of programs that provide direct early care and education for young children.

NOTE: The Executive Invitational Series is solely focused on direct care providers and is not an appropriate training event for agencies without direct care services.   Other child care and early education industry partners, resource and referral, or vendors interested in advertising or sponsorship opportunities should contact Lori Buxton, [email protected] for more information.

Criteria for Participation

  • Participants must be an AELL member in good standing.
  • Participants must be an Owner or Senior Executive with a program that provides direct early care and education services for young children.
  • Participants must submit a completed event application to be reviewed by the event committee to ensure all criteria has been met.
  • If accepted, participants must meet all payment due dates or invitation may be rescinded.

Application Process

Executive Leaders who have not previously attended this event are required to complete the Executive Series Invitational Application.  The application will be reviewed by the event committee to ensure participation criteria is met.  Applicants will be notified of application decision within seven (7) business days of submission. Applications can be accessed in the following ways:

  • By invitation from an event alumnus who will request an application on your behalf
  • Downloading an application from the Association website

It is generally accepted that Owners may have key employees that are integral to the successful operation of their programs. The following parameters are in place for owners to invite these employees:

  • Owner must have participated in at least one (1) Executive Invitational Series Even (formerly known as Owners Only).
  • Owner must submit a written request for an Executive Invitation Series Application for another participant who is NOT an Owner of the agency
  • Participants agree to adhere to the Code of Conduct related to this event 


All cancellations must be made in writing or sent to [email protected]

  • Registration cancellations received by October 31, 2023 are refundable minus a $125 processing fee.
  • No-shows and cancellations received after November 1, 2023 will not be eligible for a refund.




The Executive Invitational Series will take place at the Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun Resort.

Important Note:

Participation in this event requires booking of the training nights through AELL. No exceptions will be made. Extended nights can be booked through membership programs.


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Room OptionPrice Extended Nights
Junior Ocean View
Single Occupancy  |  Includes Training
$4,336 per person$604 per night per person
Junior Ocean View
Double Occupancy | Includes Training
$3,460 per person$385 per night per person
Junior Ocean View Companion
Double Occupancy | Does Not Include Training
$2,560 per person$385 per night per person
Junior Ocean View Preferred Club
Double Occupancy | Includes Training
$3,812 per person$473 per person per night
Junior Ocean View Preferred Club
Single Occupancy | Includes Training
$5,620 per person$925 per person per night
Junior Ocean View Preferred Club Companion
Double Occupancy | Does Not Include Training
$2,912 per person$473 per night per person
Junior Ocean Front Preferred Club
Double Occupancy | Includes Training
$4,684 per person$691 per night per person
Junior Ocean Front Preferred Club
Single Occupancy | Includes Training
$7,364 per person$1,361 per night per person
Junior Ocean Front Preferred Club Companion
Double Occupancy | Does Not Include Training
$3,784 per person$691 per night per person

Benjamin Smithee  |  CEO  |  The Smithee Group  | 

Ben Smithee helps business leaders translate the future into a strategic roadmap they can start implementing today. He has been a featured speaker around the world across 6 continents and almost 30 countries. Ben has been a sought-after consultant for leading brands, including McDonald’s, EA Games, Cox Automotive, Serena Williams, General Mills, ebay, Chase, Popeyes, Disney, Salesforce, and 100’s of startups and retailers.

Ben is the CEO of The Smithee Group (TSG), a Digital Growth Agency that offers a full suite of digital marketing and media solutions that leverages their extensive expertise in research, consumer insights, and data analytics. He has founded 3 successful startups, and in addition to TSG, he helps lead marketing for AltFund, an innovative Fund of Funds in the Crypto space.

Ben lives in Dallas, TX, with his wife and daughter, and when he is not in the business and non-profit worlds, you can find Ben on the track racing cars, on the mountain snowboarding, or on the links playing golf. His family attends Shoreline City church.



John D. Hilcher, CPA |  Principal & Chief Executive Officer (CEO)  |  JDH CPA  |

John began his public accounting career with R.A. Fredericks & Company, LLP prior to joining Ernst & Young in 1984. In 1989, he established his practice providing tax, financial reporting, accounting, and management advisory services to clients primarily in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, with reciprocity to practice in various states. 

John’s extensive experience includes foreign, federal, state, and local taxes, including corporate, partnership, fiduciary, individual, estate, and gift taxes. He provides tax controversy and planning services, minimizing or deferring foreign, federal, state, and local taxes. His financial reporting practice, audit, review, and compilation engagements are peer-reviewed.

John is licensed in New Jersey and Tennessee as a Certified Public Accountant member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, graduating from Montclair State University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in accounting.



Erica Sylvia  |  Owner and President   |  Thrive  |

Erica is dedicated to empowering business owners in making informed decisions about their benefit programs. With a passion for balancing quality, cost control, and integration, Erica leads a team committed to providing honest and dedicated service to clients. Erica is also an integral part of Wealth Management Strategies, a multi-disciplinary financial firm of experienced professionals, providing clients with a full spectrum of financial services. Specializing in the Qualified Plans, Succession Planning, and Executive Benefits arena, she focuses on planning, implementing, and supporting retirement assets with a coordinated and innovative approach. Erica’s commitment to professional growth is evident through her certifications, including “Retirement Planning Specialist” from Wharton and “Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor (CPFA)” from the National Association of Plan Advisors.

Originally from New England, she now embraces an active outdoor lifestyle in coastal Orange County. In addition to her thriving business role, Erica serves on the board of trustees for Olive Crest, an organization devoted to at-risk children and families. Her philanthropic spirit extends to her household, where she cares for a lively assortment of rescue animals that bring both laughter and joy.



Blake Sanders |  Sales Manager  |  Aleaf Insurance  |

Blake Sanders is a native Texan who was born and raised in Forney, Texas and has been in the insurance
industry for over a decade.

Blake attended Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos and graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor
of Arts Degree in Business Management. He has worked in the retail industry as a manager of a rental
car company but left that profession to focus on his career as an insurance agent. He has specialized in
the child care industry for most of his professional insurance career. Fun fact – his wife Marcie is no
stranger to the child care world as she worked in the industry for almost a decade.

Blake has been married to Marcie for 19 years and they have two children: Kyler is currently a
Sophomore attending the University of Mary Hardin Baylor on a softball scholarship and studying pre-
med. Kason is 14 and in 8 th grade and plays baseball, basketball and football.



Hidden away on one of the most pristine and famous beaches in all of Mexico, this AAA Five Diamond Resort, Secrets Maroma Beach, is the quintessential setting for relaxation and romance. Unwind in one of the many private, secluded nooks throughout the sprawling, manicured grounds or refresh at the stunning 13,000 square foot Secrets Spa by Pevonia® through a combination of hydrotherapy and indigenous treatments. Experience the ultimate in pampering at this Unlimited-Luxury®, adults-only paradise offering countless indulgences, delicious gourmet fare, breathtaking views and outstanding entertainment.


Cancun International Airport (CUN) is just 35 minutes away from the Secrets Maroma resort.


The Association for Early Learning Leaders is committed to excellence in the field of early childhood care and education by promoting leadership development and enhancing program quality.

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