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Remembering Bill Henningsgaard: The Change-Maker

Published on: December 30, 2013

It is with a heavy heart that we re-post this acknowledgement of the tremendous commitment Bill Henningsgaard made to his community.

I was honored to get to know Bill personally while sitting on the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences board under his skilled and visionary leadership.

Quietly, Bill effectively touched and changed many people's lives with his valiant civic efforts and unyielding tenacity to improve their existence.

We at ParentMap pledge to help strengthen the Eastside community that Bill worked tirelessly to improve.

Our deepest sentiments go to Bill's family as well as the other families affected by the recent tragic plane crash.

— Alayne Sulkin, ParentMap Publisher

bill-hBill Henningsgaard

Executive director, Eastside Pathways

Bill Henningsgaard, like the coastal Oregon town of Astoria where he grew up, has a pronounced strength of character as well as charm. He lights up as he talks about Eastside Pathways, a partnership of organizations and individuals sharing a commitment to the idea that each and every child should have the chance to make the most of their lives.

Influenced by his civically engaged parents, Henningsgaard understood at a young age that being part of a community means helping to define and create the community’s life forces that affect so many.

His path to a high level of civic responsibility was not a linear one. “To be honest, I didn’t think much about public service as an undergraduate at Harvard, overseas in Norway or Scotland post-graduation or even at business school at Stanford,” he says.

But caring about his community was in Henningsgaard’s DNA. After years at Microsoft and traveling worldwide, he longed for a deeper connection with his town. Microsoft co-worker Paul Shoemaker had recently launched Social Venture Partners (SVP) and suggested that Henningsgaard join the board of one of SVP’s first investees, Youth Eastside Services.

After attending a Bellevue Schools Foundation coffee at Lake Hills Elemen­tary School in January 2011, he “was stunned” to learn of the numbers of kids who were struggling to succeed in many of Bellevue’s elementary schools.

“They were facing hurdles connected to poverty, language and mobility, and our schools weren’t able to close the resulting gaps,” he says. “After that coffee, Roxanne Shepherd from Bellevue Schools Foundation and John Stokes [a Bellevue City Council member] and I had coffee; they were immediately taken with the collective impact potential.  The conversation extended to the district, the city, key social service agencies and the college.”

By March 2011, Henningsgaard and his team had gathered 30 key community leaders for a discussion, and by June, they launched the organization with a 90-person kickoff. Today, Eastside Pathways has 40 partner organizations.

Eastside Pathways’ goal through collective action is to mobilize the entire community of Bellevue to support every child, step by step, from cradle to career.

“Our efforts to ‘connect the dots’ between all parts of our community enables us to help make the most of existing resources and make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks,” Henningsgaard says.


What most motivates you to give back to the community?

I enjoy this work. The people I’ve met and the sense of community and purpose are really gratifying. The closer I get to the schools and the community organizations that support kids and families, the more evident it is that they’re filled with dedicated and passionate people trying to change lives one kid at a time. It’s a privilege to get to know and work with them.

What qualities do you most admire in others?

I’m attracted to people who can see possibilities in the world around us. This community is full of those folks, which is the only explanation I can give why so many people and organizations have supported Eastside Pathways from the very beginning

Best recent read?

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Also, I like crime thrillers by James Lee Burke or Norway’s Jo Nesbø.

How do you take your coffee?

Drip, black. Plain Jane all the way.

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