Bill Henningsgaard

Eastside Pathways
Executive Director and Chair of the Board

In January 2010, I found myself sitting in the little chairs in the library at Lake Hills Elementary, a public school in Bellevue.  I was feeling good about myself for accepting the invitation from a friend who is also the parent of my daughter’s classmate.   And I was preparing to defend against the inevitable “ask.”  As I sat there, half listening, I realized that what I was hearing from the Bellevue School District presenter defied my preconceptions: kids showing up to school hungry, kids who are victims of domestic violence, a big fraction of the school speaking a language other than English as a first language, herculean efforts on the part of teachers to try to get first graders to grade level, before they fall irreparably behind.  I hear a fact – 70% of kids qualify for free and reduced lunch, up from 50% only a few years before.  I learned later that Lake Hill’s poverty level was not only higher than any place on the Eastside; it was also about the same as areas such as Beacon Hill in Seattle or the city of Tukwila.

All of a sudden, I found myself listening with a different set of ears.  I listened differently because I was shocked. How come I did not know that this poverty and these challenges to support students existed only three miles from the Microsoft campus where I had worked and less than a mile from Stevenson Elementary where our three kids had gone to school?  I’d considered myself well educated and engaged, but had missed the change in our community.  It was disorienting – I wasn’t sitting in an affluent suburb listening to a pitch for adding yet another field trip.  I was in an inner city school listening to a pitch about huge efforts to TRY to help kids overcome tragic socio-economic disadvantages.  And I was listening to a pitch about how the battle wasn’t going well.

That day was my entry point to the effort that has become Eastside Pathways. 

Over the previous month, a group at Social Venture Partners in Seattle had been learning about this idea of Collective Impact – an approach that seemed to be making headway in addressing similar education challenges in Cincinnati.  Sitting there in that chair at Lake Hills Elementary, a light bulb went on.  Maybe that approach, which pulls the community together to support every child cradle to career, would help address the problems Lake Hills and the rapidly changing face of Bellevue were experiencing.

That idea, that light bulb, led to discussions with the superintendent, the city manager, service providers, leaders and funders from around the community.  We discovered a shared recognition that our current approaches were not sufficient to achieve the future we wanted for our kids and our community and a shared willingness to work together in new, more intentional ways.  Since then, Eastside Pathways has emerged as a community-wide partnership, driven by volunteer leadership and the committed engagement of the leading organizations in the community.  Together, we will mobilize the many strengths of this community to ensure that every child reaches adulthood capable, confident and ready to contribute.