Executive Director

Caitlin Jensen, MSW

Communications Manager

Karen Gilbert

Policy & Engagement Director

Alex DuBois

Program Director

Rhonda Schwenke

Senior Child Care Business Advisor

Jason Nitschke

Communications & Outreach Coordinator

Heide Borgonovo

Community Navigator

Shelby Whelan

Program Coordinator

Richard Heitstuman

Child Care Business Advisor

Kendra Edlin

Early Childhood Tribal Coordinator

Callie Parr

Early Childhood Policy Analyst

Sarah Froehlke

Workforce Business Consultant

Beth Branam

Executive Director

Caitlin Jensen, MSW

Caitlin has worked in early childhood policy and systems building for nearly 20 years, initially working in a Head Start and a small child care center. Her experience working with young children and families, both locally and internationally, led her to pursue her master’s in social work with an emphasis on policy & advocacy at the University of Washington. She completed her Maternal and Child Health Leadership fellowship through the UW School of Medicine/Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2010, and holds a certificate in Entrepreneurial Leadership in the Social Sector through Babson College, and a certificate in P-3 Leadership through the University of Colorado Denver.

Her professional aspirations have led her to purposeful policy and governmental relations work in both Montana and Washington state, leading complex early childhood systems initiatives with Early Head Start/Head Start, child care, K-12, higher education, employers, parents, as well as state, federal and tribal government leadership. She is passionate about working with community leaders and policy makers alike to address systemic issues in the field of early childhood.

Working with the team at Zero to Five Montana to support early childhood systems-building work through policy and advocacy, as well as programmatic efforts such at Montana Child Care Business Connect, is an incredibly rewarding experience and she looks forward to making more connections with partners across our great state. Please connect with Caitlin if you would like to learn more about the work of the organization.

Caitlin lives in Helena and enjoys spending time outside with her husband and their 3 year-old and infant sons.

Communications Manager

Karen Gilbert

Karen joins Zero to Five Montana after five years with the non-partisan Fiscal Division of the Montana Legislature. Her communications career began in a tiny Wyoming television newsroom, continued in weekly and daily newspapers in Las Vegas and Mississippi, and pivoted to university public relations in Colorado.

The lure of Montana’s vast wide-open spaces brought Karen and her family to the state where together they have enjoyed exploring the area’s hiking trails, campgrounds, rivers, lakes, ski slopes and hot springs.
Karen is so happy to have the opportunity to help advance Zero to Five’s mission to ensure Montana’s kids get the best start in life.

Policy & Engagement Director

Alex DuBois

Alex fell in love with early childhood education after obtaining a part time position with ASUM Child Care at the University of Montana while attending classes. After being exposed to the importance of early childhood and the critical development that ensues during the first eight years of life, she began her adventure to obtain her degree in Early Childhood Education. In 2015 Alex received her AAS in Early Childhood Education through the University of Montana Western as a single mother to her 3-year-old son Heston. Having real life experience tying to navigate raising a child in Montana in tandem with working to further her career, Alex solidified her drive to make a difference for all shapes and sizes of families in Montana.

Alex continued along her professional journey working in many different roles in the early childhood system from preschool teacher to work in a Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. Her experience working with young children and families, early care and education professionals, and being a mother herself, she continued to strive to improve the early childhood system and advocate for change to support children and families.

She was born in Kalispell, MT, and was raised in Bonner, MT, just east of Missoula. She has strong family roots in Montana and looks forward to raising her own children in the great state. She enjoys camping, fishing, and being outside with her five children, husband Waylon, and two fur babies.

Program Director

Rhonda Schwenke

Rhonda has always had a passion for working with children, leading her to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in families from Montana State University-Billings. She has since worked in many aspects of early childhood throughout her career, ranging from almost every role in center care (including preschool teacher), to working in an inter-generational program housed on a nursing home campus (an experience that is near and dear to her heart and gave her daughter a strong foundation growing up in the program), and as a lead professional development specialist for a child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agency. Rhonda most recently worked for the Early Childhood Services Bureau of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Throughout more than 11 years at ECSB, she worked closely with the STARS to Quality program as well as supporting provider services within the CCR&R agencies. She was most recently a child care licensing program manager, supervising the child care licensors in the field and working to enhance the world of licensing.

Rhonda is a lifelong Montana resident. She was born and raised in Grass Range, MT, on a ranch that has been in the family for more than 110 years. After moving to Billings for college and remaining there for 10 years, Rhonda moved to Choteau with her family. She and her husband have two daughters 17 years apart in age and a grandson. They also have two dogs, Deeno and Daisy. In her spare time, Rhonda enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and camping in the summer. She is excited for this journey with Zero to Five Montana and to be able to continue to support child care programs.

Senior Child Care Business Advisor

Jason Nitschke

Jason joins Zero to Five Montana as our Senior Child Care Business Advisor after eight years in economic development as Vice President with the Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA) and Regional Director of the Great Falls area Small Business Development Center (SBDC). He will be delivering educational opportunities and one-on-one consultation support to entrepreneurs and communities starting, growing, and expanding childcare and early education solutions.

During his time in economic development, he advised and trained nearly 4000 entrepreneurs and business professionals, helped start over 100 businesses, supported 2800 jobs, and helped in attracting nearly $75M in capital investment into area businesses. Jason received two national awards during his time at GFDA. He was the 2022 recipient of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Boots to Business Instructor of the Year, a national award recognizing the top five presenters of the SBA’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship curriculum for active-duty military and veterans. In 2018, he was named the Montana State SBDC Star honoring the top 1% of business advisors in the U.S.

Prior to joining the economic development community, Jason owned two businesses and spent 16 years as a print and broadcast journalist. He is an award-winning broadcaster, native Montanan, and is a proud daughter-dad. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Montana and a master’s degree in Communication from Hawaii Pacific University-Honolulu.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation with Jason, click here or use the calendar below.

Communications & Outreach Coordinator

Heide Borgonovo

Heide joins Zero to Five Montana with experience in nonprofit communications and journalism. After graduating from the University of Montana with a journalism degree, her career began as a copy and layout editor at the Missoulian and when she moved to Helena she took up communications and marketing working for the Montana Hospital Association.

She found a passion for nonprofit communications during college internships with Montana Public Radio and Garden City Harvest. She is excited to help build a better Montana for future generations and, as a daughter of a kindergarten and preschool teacher, looks forward to diving deeper into the child care world.

Heide moved from Missoula to Helena in 2020 and now lives with her partner and their two tripod rescue dogs, Cici and Basil.

Community Navigator

Shelby Whelan

Shelby is a people-person who is excited to continue her community development work as the Community Navigator for Montana Child Care Business Connect.

After graduating from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in psychology specializing in family and human development, Shelby worked in several roles within Zero to Five Butte-Silver Bow. In these positions, she helped develop and implement community-led projects related to children and families, facilitated a handful of early childhood coalitions and committees, received the 2022 Moving Mountains award, and became invested in the need for early childhood systems change in Montana.

Shelby has always loved the Montana landscape wherever she found herself. Growing up in Columbia Falls, right outside Glacier National Park, you could find Shelby swimming or paddle boarding on any body of water, camping, hiking, or just appreciating the beauty of the woods. When she moved to Butte with her husband, Connor, her instincts never changed,and she still makes time to get out into the wild.

Program Coordinator

Richard Heitstuman

Richard is a Helena native, Capital High School and Carroll College graduate. When he isn’t advocating for his community, he loves exploring Montana’s wild places and is a passionate proponent of enjoying our public lands.

Unbeknownst to him, Richard has been an early childhood advocate his whole life. Richard’s mother was an in-home child care provider from the time he was born, so he experienced first-hand the struggles faced by both child care providers and the families that depend on them. Now that he is working with Zero to Five Montana, he is ready to help improve a system that made such an impact on his life.

Child Care Business Advisor

Kendra Edlin

Kendra has always had a passion for building strong communities. After working in the cooperative movement for nearly 20 years, building financial education curriculum for school systems and small business economic opportunities in underserved communities, Kendra moved to continue her passion of economic development in the state of Montana where she served as the executive director of Montana’s Credit Unions for Community Development.

Most recently Kendra has served Montana through her work at the Department of Commerce working on the State Small Business Credit Initiative. There she worked closely with businesses across the state who struggle to find conventional loans to start up or expand of their business. Her work is supported by a degree in communications from Eastern Washington University and extended credit union management training from Western CUNA Management School, at Pomona University.

During her early years of motherhood, Kendra taught preschool for four years at a center in Spokane, Wash., where she became passionate about the education of children. While recently attending a conference, Kendra heard about the impactful work being done at Zero to Five Montana and decided she needed to be a part of it. She joins the team as business advisor.

In her free time, Kendra loves tending to her five goats & 14 chickens, traveling the state with her husband and dog, camping and rock hounding (garnets are her favorite.)

Early Childhood Tribal Coordinator

Callie Parr

Callie Parr joins Zero to Five Montana as the Early Childhood Tribal Coordinator with a diverse professional background. Most recently, she was working to support families and early childhood initiatives at the community level in her hometown of Butte.  

Callie found her passion for early childhood after becoming a mother herself and recognizing the true impact access to early learning opportunities, prevention through early intervention, and other supportive programs can have on young children and families.  

Callie is a people-person with a passion for helping others. She was facilitator of the local early childhood coalition, has served on several committees, and received the 2023 Moving Mountains Award for her prevention efforts. 

Her family comes from the Little Shell Tribe located in Great Falls, that was recently federally recognized as a tribe in 2019. She looks forward to building strong relationships with communities, parents, and leaders throughout the state of Montana and advocate for all children and families.

When she’s not advocating for families in Montana, you can find Callie spending time with her three children, spouse, Chris, and her puppy and kitty! 

Early Childhood Policy Analyst

Sarah Froehlke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah is passionate about developing strong early childhood policy systems so that all children and communities can thrive. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in political science, Sarah served as an AmeriCorps member in Spokane, Washington, at the Childbirth and Parenting Assistance Program. Since then, her interest in early childhood led her to pursue a master’s degree in International Relations and Early Childhood Development from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Sarah’s experience ranges from working on national security policy legislation in Washington, D.C., to designing education programs in Kigali, Rwanda, to providing 1-1 support for children with Autism in Centennial, Colorado. She is thrilled to join the Zero to Five Montana team and help advance the collective mission to ensure Montana’s children have the best possible start in life.

In her free time, Sarah enjoys getting outside and exploring all that Helena and greater Montana has to offer.

Workforce Business Consultant

Beth Branam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth has always had a heart for helping others. She joins Zero to Five Montana as Workforce Business Consultant with a strong background in the human services field. She has worked in Human Services for more than 11 years, with many of those years focused on early childhood in a Head Start and Early Head Start program. Her formal education includes an associate’s degree in Art in Education and a bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology with a concentration in Organizations.

Beth loves working with local communities to drive change. She has been fortunate to do the work she loves throughout her career, ranging from providing educational opportunities for families, chairing a local early childhood coalition, supporting the roll-out of early childhood programming and contributing to the important work of building a strong early childhood system in Montana. She is excited to use her experience in early childhood and her passion for tackling hard issues and finding innovative solutions to support childcare businesses throughout the state.

In her free time, Beth loves to spend time with her husband, Shawn, and her daughter. She also enjoys reading, drinking coffee and going camping. Her family recently moved from Great Falls to Helena and she is really enjoying all of the outdoor beauty Helena has to offer and explore.