We all know the names of the high-profile clubs, but several Eastside organizations also are doing impressive work under the radar. We take a closer look at three of them.
Your father’s cigar club. Your wife’s book club. Your daughter’s sorority, your son’s Boy Scouts troop, or your own Veterans of Foreign Wars post. One of the biggest reasons these groups and others exist is because we all want to feel like we belong and want to be with individuals who share the same values or experiences. We decided to seek out some truly unique Eastside clubs, organizations, and groups that are providing members with camaraderie while working to better our community.
Kirkland Woman’s Club
In the early 1920s, L. Blake Baldwin founded the Kirkland Woman’s Club, in part, to bring women from Kirkland and surrounding areas together for monthly luncheons and regular coffee socials.
“I would imagine that back in the ’20s and ’30s that everyone would look like the ladies who lunch, with their hats and white gloves,” said Linda Wyckoff, secretary and co-chair of the building committee.
The other — and admittedly more critical — mission of the nonprofit organization was its charitable services, which are as important today as they were in Baldwin’s day. So what has changed? The dress code, Wyckoff said. Today’s members wear brightly colored knit cardigans and sensible pants (or an occasional skirt).
In the years since Baldwin passed the proverbial baton, the organization has led the charge on numerous charitable projects in the community, most of them centered on advocacy for seniors, Hopelink, cancer research, Operation Smile, and more. Additionally, in 1949, the organization purchased the land for the present-day Federation Forest — a day-use Washington State Park on 600 acres of land near the White River — for the purpose of preserving forest land.
Although the organization has supported a vast array of charities and causes throughout the years, members have steadfastly clung to two causes they unfailingly support each year. The first is the organization’s scholarship program, which gives four $1,000 college scholarships to female students at one of Kirkland’s two high schools.
“We wish we could do more,” Wyckoff said. “I anguish over the modest amount, but the students do say, and their counselors do say, that they put together this patchwork of multiple scholarships because they get scholarships wherever they can on the theory, is that every dollar counts, and it is appreciated.”
Struggling families are the second main target of the organization’s giving. Every few months, the ladies get together and make layette baskets, filling them with donated diapers, onesies, and formula and deliver them to Women, Infants, and Children for families in need.
The club has had thousands of members since its inception nearly a century ago, and there currently are about 35 members. One “member” that has stood the test of time has been the organization’s historic building at 407 First St., across from Kirkland City Hall. The single-story building has housed the group since 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Despite the draw of the still-beautiful historic building, Wyckoff said, it’s hard to recruit new members these days, especially younger career women who work during the day, when the club’s meetings occur.
“I feel like in many ways we are this hidden organization. I think people pass us by on the street and have no idea what we are,” she said.
When Wyckoff joined the organization as a lawyer four years ago, she initially did so for business networking. But after retiring so she could help manage her husband’s Bellevue business, she realized the group’s causes and the friendships are the reasons she stuck around. She hopes those same reasons will convince today’s young women to come forward and join.
“It is a very international group of women,” she said. “There are women from Jordan, Afghanistan, all kinds of places … Lebanon … but that has been enjoyable to me to get to know them and their culture a little bit. It has just been very satisfying.”
Dues: $35 annually
English Language Learners Alliance
Imagine that your spouse has received a great new job in the technology industry. The pay is substantial, and the benefits will aid the health of your family and your investments for years to come. The only problem is this job is in another country, one where you have only a basic understanding of the language and where it will take years of untangling sticky red tape for you to get a work visa.
This is the reality for many Eastsiders who have come here for a job, most often in the tech field. Unfortunately, when the spouse accompanies the new employee to the United States, he or she often is left to sit alone at home in a new area that is nearly impossible to navigate and without a job to bolster their self-worth.
This conundrum was one that Suzanne Sievert, founder of English Language Learners Alliance (ELLA), witnessed while working as an English as a Second Language teacher for Bellevue College more than five years ago. Many of her students would come to class, practice English for an hour or two, and then return to either an empty house, or a house where everyone was speaking in their native tongue.
“In a classroom, you actually don’t get that much practice with conversational English, so they were feeling lonely,” Sievert said. “They would go to class and then they would go home, and that was their life.”
Sievert, a native English speaker, started to notice her students seemed unhappy. “As a teacher, I started suggesting we should go for a cup of coffee after class and we could just chat, and then eventually I realized I had to expand this to do more and more so people could partake in it,” she said.
It was then that ELLA was born as a safe place for non-native English speakers to gather and share their one common bond: the desire to speak English at a conversational level. Groups would meet at Crossroads Mall during lunch and just chat. No structure, no leader, just individuals from around the world bonding over a shared experience.
“It grew organically through word of mouth,” Sievert said. “Then we started adding programs because people had different needs. (For example,) people would bring children, and it was hard to talk and keep the kids occupied, so we decided to add a parent and child program where people could bring their kids, and we did it in a playroom.”
Today, ELLA meetings are scheduled around the clock, and Sievert estimates she and her network of volunteers see close to 200 members in a week. In fact, ELLA has become so popular that Sievert left her job at Bellevue College and volunteers for ELLA full-time from various sites across the Eastside, helping as many people as she can.
“We are friendly and welcoming to everybody and we are at a point where immigrants are feeling maybe — not necessarily scared — but not as welcome at the moment, and our goal is to make everyone feel like we are happy they are here in our community, and this is a safe place where you can come and talk and chat.”
ELLA makes use of the diversity of the Eastside’s population to foster a more inclusive environment for everyone who speaks English as a second language.
“People are always thanking me for doing this, and I always tell them it is really them,” Sievert said. “I am only one person, but they are 50 people (in each meeting) and they are all so friendly to each other, that is what makes people keep coming back.”
Membership and events are free.
In 1993, then-Microsoft employee Vijay Vashee attended an event hosted by the Silicon Valley chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs, or TiE, and immediately knew he had stumbled upon something that could potentially help a lot of startups flourish. Upon moving to the area in 1999 for work, Vashee began to see the benefit in localizing the organization.
TiE originally was named to reflect the South Asian background of the individuals who chartered the organization in 1992. However, over time, as the organization became a melting pot of different cultures, TiE came to stand for talent, ideas, and enterprise.
The purpose of the club is to bring experienced professionals and business owners together with headstrong entrepreneurs through mentoring, networking, and education. It offers free seminars to members on topics such as bootstrapping your own business and empowering talks about fearless female founders.
When Vashee arrived on the scene, internet-based startups had a ton of momentum, with everyone seeking to cash in on their share of the dot-com boom. He knew entrepreneurs all over would be looking to industry professionals for guidance, but he found he could no longer give his time to startups across the country, so he started TiE Seattle to serve the Eastside, Seattle, and beyond.
“At some point I figured, why put money in these companies in Silicon Valley, Atlanta, Boston, and San Diego?” Vashee said. “I really wanted to work with individuals who had a startup within a few miles of where I live, primarily because that is the way I can help them. I’m not about to get on a plane and go to Atlanta; for me to just go half an hour and I’m at the startup, it is a lot easier.”
Since then, TiE Seattle has flourished — despite the obvious economic hiccups during 9/11 and the 2008 recession — with approximately 70 regular members and more than 60 charter members throughout the region.
The current president of TiE Seattle, Pradeep Rathinam, said the club’s location among the Eastside population is critical for the group’s focus, explaining that many entrepreneurs get their business inspiration in the shadow of large Eastside corporations like Microsoft, Google, Expedia, and T-Mobile. Especially those entrepreneurs with aspirations of getting into the technology sector.
“The tech entrepreneur is probably the most important member in a software company and we believe TiE is best positioned to tap this potential. We also have a large network of mentors who have worked in very senior positions who live on the Eastside,” Rathinam said.
But TiE’s crown jewel, according to Rathinam, is the organization’s TYE, or TiE Youth Entrepreneurs, program where the focus is placed on entrepreneurs in grades 9-12. Seasoned executives and CEOs are brought in to teach the students how to build a product, and subsequently, a business.
“(TYE) sows the seed of entrepreneurship at such an early age that we believe the kids who go through this are more likely to be entrepreneurs in the future,” Rathinam said.
Rathinam enjoys the value TiE adds to the local business community and hopes to see many more businesses emerge with the help of TiE’s network of experienced entrepreneurs and professionals.
“The ultimate satisfaction for me is to see an idea transform to a company and we have seen so many of them grow from the mentorship of the TiE network,” he said. “More recently, we have seen the emergence of companies like Apptio, Icertis, and several others that have come up through the TiE network.”
Dues: $100 annually