One evening last week, while driving errands in Bellevue’s bustling downtown, I caught a radio debate between the two candidates for Seattle mayor. Their dialogue reached across Lake Washington from the studios of KCTS. It’s fashionable to complain about the sameness of candidates Ed Murray and Mike McGinn, but it was nice to hear the earnestness and ambition of Seattle’s civic engagement.
Lately, there are glimmers of hope for the social and civic engagement of Eastsiders. KBCS, a little known Bellevue-based public radio station, recently received a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to broaden its reach by moving its broadcast tower to the top of Tiger Mountain. KBCS has worked hard to bring candidate forums and debates to Eastsiders. A recently published index on livability ranked Bellevue 12th in the nation, reporting its civic and social capital well above average.
Despite the growth, diversity and relative wealth of the Eastside, the cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Kirkland and so on lack a united, regional approach to envisioning their future. Taken together, these Eastside communities rival, if not surpass the size of Seattle, yet they remain balkanized. There is no daily news voice dedicated to the Eastside communities. There is no City Club or Town Hall that attracts general audiences to Eastside policy discussions.
To be sure there are important civic conversations in each town’s Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and the like. Celina Karevia, writing for Crosscut, described some of the neighborhood forums that candidates for Bellevue city council have held. But Eastside residents have been slow to grasp their growing importance and influence as a regional force, not to mention their opportunity to become an important player nationally. After all, this is home to Microsoft, a growing Google presence, Nintendo, Eddie Bauer and other global brands, but it is also home to a phenomenally diverse demographic with all the resulting inequities.
One step in the right direction has been the formation of Leadership Eastside, a Redmond-based nonprofit whose mission is to work across municipal and demographic boundaries “for the greater good.” Led by James Whitfield (pictured below), the organization looks at issues from a regional, rather than city-by-city perspective.
“We inform, equip and connect our communities’ greatest asset — its leaders — to meet the community’s greatest needs,” said Whitfield during a phone call last week. “I have worked in for-profit, nonprofit and the public sector. There are so many things to gain by bringing together each of these sectors, because no one of them has cornered the market on truth and understanding.”
"It’s important to recognize the issues of each Eastside community," said Whitfield, “but we also need to become an Eastside community, to create an environment where we can have conversations of common purpose. Our board has made it clear that we are to convene leadership for the greater good. We are trying to think critically and creatively about what it means to do good, not just for me, but for everyone.”
My family has lived in the same Bellevue community for the past 20 years, and has experienced the growth and the challenges. Late this summer I was asked to serve on the selection commmittee for the Leadership Eastside awards, which are given to individuals or organizations in four categories: impact, insight, innovation, inspiration.
This year’s winners are:
For creating a lasting impression or leaving a meaningful difference, Leadership Eastside chose KidsQuest Children’s Museum. Leadership from board and staff has created a museum that reaches large numbers of kids and families. According to Putter Bert, KidsQuest Children’s Museum Executive Director, more than 180,000 children and their caregivers visit the museum each year. The outreach team visits more than 200 schools, camps and community centers to teach STEM skills to young people. In 2015, KidsQuest hopes to move to a new downtown Bellevue location. “This award helps to make our broader community aware of our work as we are talking with them about KidsQuest’s Capital Campaign: 'Good to Grow,'” says Bert.
For leadership that was adaptive and successfully creative in an unexpected way, Leadership Eastside recognized the work of Nourishing Networks in developing and implementing a groundbreaking way for members of Eastside communities to connect food resources with hunger needs.
For seeing the bigger picture or finding and leveraging the obscure but critical component, Leadership Eastside selected Marci Muhlestein for her work launching Bellevue College’s OLS program, the first-in-the-nation Associates Degree in Occupation and Life Skills for adults with cognitive disabilities.
At Friday night's ceremony, Eastsiders will also vote for a Community Choice Award winner. The candidates are:
- Sue Baugh, a broker at Cushman Wakefield Commerce for her board and other business/volunteer leadership in a variety of roles;
- Kevin Henry, communications Coordinator at City of Bellevue, for his tireless efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on the Eastside;
- Trina Westerlund, founder and CEO of Children’s Institute for Learning Differences (CHILD), for decades of groundbreaking work helping children with learning and developmental disabilities;
- Karen Ridlon, founder and former Executive Director of Eastside Baby Corner, for helping move children and parents out of crisis;
- Bellevue Kiwanis, for engaging the business community in ongoing support for students.
“This is an opportunity to come together and highlight people and organizations that embody the values and priorities we think are important," said Leadership Eastside's James Whitfield. "It’s an opportunity to celebrate the kind of community that makes this type of work possible.”
On Feb. 6, 2014, Leadership Eastside will hold its annual State of the Eastside issue forum. Whitfield plans for a broad community engagement campaign in the near future.