Imagine Staff Spotlight: Cate Bridenstine

Imagine’s executive director, Cate Bridenstine, does most of her work behind the scenes. This week, we’re featuring her on the blog to tell the story of why she started working for Imagine and what she envisions for the future of our programs, our industry and our society.

Meet Cate

When the Imagine Institute began, founding executive director Cate Bridenstine did a little bit of everything — building furniture for the new office and bussing tables at Imagine’s first event, alongside the enormous work of getting a new organization off the ground.

She looks back fondly on those early days. But even more, she’s loved watching Imagine grow as child care workers across Washington enthusiastically embraced Imagine’s philosophy of relationship-based professional development.

“Early childhood educators are deeply invested in their own personal development and growth,” Bridenstine says. “It’s all driven by their love of children and serving their communities.”

The Path to Imagine

Like many of Imagine’s first employees, Bridenstine came to the organization through a position at SEIU Local 925. As Imagine’s founding Executive Director, she built the program into the robust partner organization it is now. Imagine’s staff has grown by 1400% and the budget has grown by more than 1200% since 2016.

Supporting child care providers — who are primarily women — fits well with Bridenstine’s education and career history.

She studied the intersections of gender, race, and identity for her bachelor’s degree at Occidental College in California and master’s degree at Lund University in Sweden. Between her studies, she received a scholarship to study Mandarin in Taiwan, where she also worked with preschool aged children .

Valuing Child Care

As a mother, Bridenstine knows the value of child care first-hand. Her son, Theo, is 20 months old.

Theo’s child care provider is a critical partner in raising him, she says. He learns so much while he’s in child care.

“I am so at peace knowing he’s getting so much of the developmental support he needs and the expertise that my child care provider brings to the table,” she says.


Bridenstine wants to change how child care is valued in our society. She says people need to understand the energy and time it takes to meet qualifications, the knowledge and skill providers gain throughout their careers, and the critical role early childhood educators play in children’s lives and futures.

Investments in child care create enormous waves throughout the economy — and big returns.

“It’s not only about the workers in our industry being predominantly female and deserving to have a thriving wage and benefits,” she says. “It’s also the impact on women’s participation in the workforce in general and our ability to have financial security across the entire span of our lives.”

Hope for the Future

Bridenstine can’t predict what actions Imagine will take in the future, because the future will be determined by the changing needs of child care providers. But she knows the dream she’s working toward.

She wants to ensure that child care workers are part of any solution for expanding early childhood education. She wants them to have a significantly increased, thriving wage that allows them to take time off and retire safely.

She wants people to be free of factoring in the cost of child care into their family planning decisions. She wants parents to be free to choose to work or stay at home, rather than be forced by economic circumstances.

And she wants children to have safe, stable, consistent care that enriches them and honors their cultures and individual needs.

Doing this will require an enormous transformation — and Bridenstine’s ready to lead the Imagine Institute in being an important partner in making it happen.

“Child care is a public good. It is critically important to our economy and to the wellbeing of our citizens, and it has to be funded as such. There’s no half measures right now,” she says. “We can’t ask child care providers’ love of children to subsidize our lack of investment anymore.”