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Sponsor Spotlight: Kate Abernathy of Providers Choice

Sponsor of Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Homes

April 15, 2024

Kate Abernathy is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Providers Choice based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Providers Choice is a state-wide sponsoring organization (sponsor) of family child care homes and centers and is the largest single-state sponsor of the CACFP. They sponsor about 90 child care centers and just under 3,000 family child care homes that collectively serve around 58,000 children. 

Providers Choice was founded in 1985 as a sponsor of family day care homes and expanded to child care centers 10 to 15 years ago. Kate joined Providers Choice in 2015 as the Director of Nutrition Education, before becoming CEO in 2019. Kate came to Providers Choice with a background in nutrition as a Registered Dietitian. During part of her dietetic internship, she spent time at a CACFP Head Start program which got her interested in child nutrition. When she joined Providers Choice, Kate fell in love with her role and the work that they do, which lead her to pursue her current role as CEO. 

NCA Board - Kate Abernathy

My passion lies in feeding kids, especially on a broader scale and how we can support kids, families, their parents, their siblings, child care providers, and all the alike. How we can help advocate for that has really morphed into why I originally applied for the chief executive officer role. 

In her role as CEO, Kate is responsible for general oversight, and focuses on outreach, recruitment, partnerships, and the advocacy efforts of her organization. Kate is constantly looking to partner with other organizations in Minnesota to work together to support child care providers and remove silos across the state. She thinks it’s important to understand how different organizations can support each other and remove barriers for child care providers. Providers Choice believes in making sure that child care providers have the resources that they need to be successful. If Providers Choice isn’t the right resource for the provider’s needs, they will find those resources or connect them with other organizations that can meet their needs.  

Kate also highlights how lucky they are to work collaboratively with the other three family child care home sponsors in Minnesota to help kids and child care providers. She believes it is incredibly valuable to connect and network with other sponsors outside of her state. A lot of her personal success has been because of the support and mentorship she received from sponsors in different states. That’s why the most important tip she would give to any sponsor, but especially new sponsors, is to find a couple of mentors in other states to be your go-to people to ask questions.  

From Kate’s perspective, Providers Choice is a successful sponsor because they have a great team of dedicated individuals that want to support child care providers. She thinks it comes down to the core values of the organization and is what makes Providers Choice unique. Every staff member believes in their work and advocates for kids and providers. 

“We really want to elevate the voices of our child care providers. We want to elevate the work that we do as a sponsorship and I think that’s one of the things that makes Providers Choice uniquely great. We work really hard together, and we have a lot of the same ideas and passions just to further support children and child care providers in the work that we do.” 

Providers Choice and all their staff recognize the importance of child nutrition and the benefits of the CACFP. Kate thinks that a great way to look at the CACFP, and how it financially benefits child care providers’ business, is like any other grant that a child care program would receive. The CACFP is a grant that is continuous and never ends. Although it may not cover all of the costs to provide meals and snacks, it helps make healthy, nutritious, fresh foods available. 

It's Kate’s hope that the CACFP becomes as well-known as School Meals. The CACFP is essential in getting healthy meals to children before they reach school. She wants every child to have the ability to access the program and thinks it’s very important for families to know about the CACFP. 

“The CACFP is just really instrumental for children in that child care age. You have the school lunch program, everybody knows about the school lunch program, but the CACFP has an even larger span than the school lunch program. It starts from birth, essentially, all the way through age 12. That really has a large span of time where it is instrumental in child development, in food development, in children’s likes and dislikes with food. 

The passionate belief in the positive impact of the CACFP has led Providers Choice to continue to work to expand access to the CACFP. In that effort, Providers Choice is increasing the number of child care centers they serve and hiring new staff to help support that growth. They’re also excited about the potential of receiving a USDA Farm to Early Care grant, which they had success with previously, to help providers create their own gardens and access local foods. Providers Choice is continually growing and embracing change with the ultimate goal of making sure every child in Minnesota has access to the CACFP. 

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kate has worked for Providers Choice since 2015.