It's a rather bittersweet time these days for Catherine Bergman, because starting August 1, she will be the new director of the Early Learning Center in Stratford.
That's quite a change from her 11-year-tenure as executive director of Hamilton County SEED. She's been with the county-wide economic development organization even longer than that, starting out as an office assistant in February, 1994. Later that year she took on the Main Street program for SEED and became the SEED executive director in 2002.
So she has mixed feelings about the career change. "I've enjoyed my work at SEED and have made so many friends here, so I'll be sad to go," Bergman says during a recent visit in her office at the conservation building in Briggs Woods Park. "But I love kids, and I'm really looking forward to having evenings free.
Catherine Bergman stands outside of SEED headquarters. She will be leaving her position as SEED director to work as Director of the Early Learning Center in Stratford on Aug. 1.
"The timing was just right" to apply for the job, Bergman says. First, there will be more time available with the two young daughters that she and husband Shaun adopted this spring, especially since the ELC is at the school they attend. Plus the new position fits in well with the bachelor's degree Bergman earned in early childhood education and elementary education from UNI in 1991.
"I'm looking forward to being with kids," Bergman notes, adding that she already knows all the kids and parents there in her hometown. Her timing is good, since the ELC is moving into a new facility on August 1. Licensed for 24 children six months to four years, the facility currently has a waiting list but will be open to more children when the renovation is complete. It has a preschool for three-year-olds-where Bergman will teach-while the school will continue with the four-year-old program.
"I see it as laying the foundation, giving them those early skills they need," Bergman says about what she looks to accomplish as the new director and teacher at the center.
And what does she believe she's accomplished for the communities she has served for almost two decades in the county where she grew up? Thinking of the relationships with people around the county makes Bergman smile and her eyes light up but what's also obviously important to her are the things she did that can be measured: implementation of the hotel/motel tax, which for SEED generated funding used for print advertising in national magazines. Putting in place tax abatement for new home construction in the county. Identifying vacant lots. A down payment assistance program.
In addition, she has written countless grants for projects and programs around the county, such as Athens Woods Estates in Stratford.
It is the little towns that have a special place in the heart of this long-time director, though. "These are my little towns, like my little chicks, and I am so proud of what they've done even though they aren't
in the Main Street program," she says with a chuckle. "It's things like the BRUSH program in Stanhope, the Jewell challenge grants, and the Stratford apartments that I especially remember."
As chairman of the SEED board, Hamilton county supervisor David Young has worked closely with Bergman over the years. "The director position has turned into a one-woman job," he remarked. "Catherine has had to do everything, and she has, from the smallest thing to the biggest.. She's done a nice job of all that for the four towns who are members of SEED."
Bergman has a good reputation around the state as well, according to Young. "Catherine is so well known and respected in the Main Street communities and very involved in the state organization," he noted.
Young says that the board is interviewing qualified candidates for the director position and hopes to move quickly to fill it. "This will be a changing time for Hamilton County SEED," he commented. "The board is looking forward to new adventures while being mindful of our past."