Meeting new business contacts can be a challenge right now. In-person networking events may be canceled for the foreseeable future and face-to-face interactions continue to be limited. So, we endeavored to reach out to Eastsiders in nonprofit, government, real estate, and retail; you can get to know four of them here — and learn more about what they currently are doing.

JUMP TO: Lauren Thomas | Manka Dhingra | Anne St. Germain | Lisa Whittaker


Courtesy Hopelink

Lauren Thomas

CEO, Hopelink

For Lauren Thomas, deciding to work in the nonprofit sector was a no-brainer. “I have a strong faith,” she said, “and I was trained in business as a CPA. Working in the nonprofit sector combined my desire for purpose-driven work, a need to serve, and my skills as a business leader.”

After working in the nonprofit sector — including eight years as the COO of Wellspring Family Services in Seattle — Thomas went back to school to earn specialized certificates in nonprofit leadership and management from both the University of Washington and Harvard Business School.

In 2014, she was appointed CEO of Hopelink, a large Eastside nonprofit that provides a network of critical social services, including housing, transportation, family development, financial assistance, employment programs, adult education, financial literacy training, and the operation of five food banks.


What are you reading? A Louise Penny mystery 

What mantra do you live by? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Last thing you Googled? Road map to pandemic resilience

Best advice you’ve received? Be yourself.


How has Hopelink responded to the pandemic? Do you have special programs or initiatives in the works?

We formed our COVID-19 Response Team on March 1 and immediately started adapting services, including changing our food bank distribution to a no-contact “take-out” model, distributing financial assistance through phone appointments, implementing our own safety and hygiene procedures, and immediately increasing telecommuting. The need for our food and financial assistance services immediately skyrocketed eight-fold. We are limited only by the amount of funds we have available.

Along the same lines, how have recent events changed the organization’s approach to providing aid, if at all?

COVID-19 has forced us to rethink what is possible. We have re-prioritized our strategic initiatives to focus on the next phase of a “Healthier Hopelink” that supports the current needs of our staff, the increased need of our clients, and community; we’re creating a new model that will quickly adapt to changes over the next year, and that will keep our organization strong into the future.

We’re all under a lot of stress right now, living in this climate of global uncertainty. What has brought you joy recently?

Daily walks and talks in the neighborhood with my adult son, packing food into food boxes for our neighbors, being home for dinner every night.


Photo by Kenneth Fockele

Manka Dhingra

Washington State Senator

Always interested in history and politics, Washington State Sen. Manka Dhingra made history as the first person of the Sikh faith ever elected to any state legislature. She took the Eastside’s 45th District position during the 2017 special election, and she founded women’s advocacy organization API Chaya in 1996.

Dhingra is a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in King County and an advocate and leader against domestic violence. When she’s not working, she enjoys her Redmond neighborhood, reading, and hanging out with her friends.


What are you reading? Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, and Dear Girls by Ali Wong

What mantra do you live by? Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Last thing you Googled? Good takeout near me.

Best advice you’ve received? The only thing in life we own is our reputation.


How does your volunteer work and causes that are important to you inform your work as a state senator?

To me, it all really comes down to our children, like everything else in life. If we really want criminal justice reform long term, you have to make sure that we as a society have a good understanding of the factors that are impacting our children.

What does trauma-informed care look like in terms of the criminal justice system?

It gets down to, “How are we currently responding to individuals who are committing crimes?” I think it’s very important that our jails are doing trauma-informed intakes when people are getting arrested. Our judges should have a grasp on what factors informed this crime, and be able to ask if we can find a way to address those factors with the individual as well as within the broader community. And that is really a lot of what the therapeutic courts did and why they were so successful.

What inspired you to start API Chaya?

When I first moved to Washington for law school, I (had been) working with organizations that served survivors of domestic violence. I reached out to a number of organizations out here and asked them how many Southeast Asian women they serve, and over and over again I heard these agencies say, “We simply don’t see Southeast Asian women, and we don’t think domestic violence is a concern for that community.” And I was like, “No, no, this isn’t right.” … I met all kinds of women who were interested in starting a domestic violence organization specifically for Southeast Asian women.


Photo by Tori Dickson

Anne St. Germain

Owner, McDonald’s Book Exchange

Tucked away in Redmond is McDonald’s Book Exchange, a 43-year-old mom-and-pop bookstore originally owned by Doug McDonald and purchased by Anne St. Germain in 1998. After having moved around the Eastside from its original location in Bellevue and through multiple buildings in Redmond — including what was once Redmond’s first library — the bookstore is now nestled next to Victor’s Coffee on Redmond Way. 

We caught up with St. Germain to hear about what it’s like to own a small bookstore today, and how she has seen the Eastside change.


What are you reading? The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan

What mantra do you live by? “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is cooperation, working together is success.” — Nokomis

Best professional advice you’ve received? Mind the details!


Why did you want to own a bookstore? Is doing so a full-time job for you?

Doug McDonald had decided to either sell or close the bookstore. I did not want to see this great resource for books close, so I purchased it. It’s my only job, but it’s made possible for me by the efforts of a superbly excellent staff.

What are some unique elements about McDonald’s Book Exchange?

We have an enormous selection with the lowest prices around. Our inventory consists of books brought in by our customers. Instead of cash, we give our customers store credit for their books. They can use their store credit to pay 60 percent of their purchases (40 percent of the purchase is paid for by the customer). The store credit never expires, with credit being added when books are brought in and credit being subtracted when books are purchased.

How have you seen Redmond change since the bookstore opened? How have your customers changed? Has anything remained the same?

Redmond has changed from a medium-size town with a small-town feel to a large, downtown atmosphere. Small businesses, like our bookstore, are closing every day — their buildings are being demolished to make way for high-rise buildings with retail at street level and apartments/condos above those. Many of our original customers have moved or passed away. We now see the children and grandchildren of some of the original customers. In fact, one of our current employees used to shop at McDonald’s Book Exchange as a child with her mother.

In what other ways are you involved in the Redmond community beyond the work you do through your bookstore?

I belong to the Nokomis Women’s Club, which is Redmond’s oldest women’s club, formed in 1909. I also have served as a board member of the Eastside Interfaith Social Concerns Coalition for many years. I am involved with various charitable organizations like Hopelink, Sophia Way, and The Landing, including fundraising, food drives, socks drives, and more.


Photo by Carly Bish Photography

Lisa Whittaker

Senior Global Real Estate Advisor, Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty

Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty opened a new regional location in downtown Bellevue earlier this year, and it’s not what one might expect from a real estate office. The 3,200-square-foot branch includes a hybrid café and bar, private event center, showroom, co-working lounge, and valet parking. It sounds like the kind of place that will take the edge off of buying a new home, and Senior Global Real Estate Advisor Lisa Whittaker is a founding member of the new branch.

With nearly 20 years of real estate experience, Whittaker’s current role includes everything from working with clients to designing a marketing campaign. New to Realogics Sotheby’s, Whittaker said she was drawn to the company because its marketing campaigns are “fresh, seductive, high-quality, and always cutting edge. No one does it better.”


What are you reading? Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

What mantra do you live by? Peace and presence in all circumstances. Our intentions create our reality.

Last thing you Googled? Great Dane puppy training (Why is my 150-pound puppy determined to unmake my made beds?)   

Best advice you’ve received? “Follow your passion” has been advice I’ve received more than a few times in life.


What initially attracted you to real estate, and what has kept you in it this long?

Initially, I wanted something that kept me local and where I wasn’t responsible for managing people. Real estate fit that description, but obviously became so much more to me. I now have one assistant, Melissa, who has been with me eight years, so she is my other half. No two clients are the same, and markets will always have their challenges in one way or another, but I continue to find it all very exciting.

You’ve probably seen some incredible homes. What’s the most awe-inspiring or interesting feature you’ve seen so far?

Symmetry, true-to-period details, natural finishes, and excellence in shape and form just resonate with me. I will always love the timelessness of classic or traditional homes but have a great appreciation for a well-designed, modern, or contemporary home that stays true to its design. Being married to an architectural designer for more than 29 years has definitely given me the gift of knowledge, observation, and a sharp eye for detail.

What’s your favorite neighborhood on the Eastside, and what is it about that area you enjoy?

I love that each has its unique qualities, but I choose to live and office in West Bellevue, because I appreciate everything it is and is becoming — from parks to its world-class development and retail, while working to maintain a climate that attracts business.