Unveiling Bellevue Essentials: Igniting Civic Leadership in a Dynamic City

  • Current Opening
  • By Gavin Haines
  • Published on June 1, 2023

Bellevue Essentials City Planning Activity Session

From learning where our tap water comes from at the utility service center to getting coffee with City Council Members, Bellevue Essentials aims to stray away from the traditional ‘death by PowerPoint’ teaching model with an active and engaging civic leadership program. We spoke with Bellevue Essentials Program Manager Julie Ellenhorn to learn about the origins of the program, the types of participants it attracts, the involvement of graduates and alumni, and its exclusive focus on the City of Bellevue.

The Origins and Evolution of Bellevue Essentials

Leadership programs on the Eastside truly started with Advance Bellevue in 1995, which later merged into the Leadership Institute, a program out of Redmond, and became Leadership Eastside. Julie was the former Executive Director of Advance Bellevue and used her experience there to start Bellevue Essentials when she came to the City. Her vision was a grassroots and knowledge-specific program for the City of Bellevue.

Bellevue Essentials was born because of minimal involvement in local board and commission openings. People also lacked the knowledge or skillset to dive into those volunteer roles, so a need was born for the program. Since then, the program's popularity and involvement is at an all-time high, especially throughout the pandemic. The program has been around for 11 years with cohorts of 35 people every year, equating to 350 total graduates since its inception.

Recently, the Bellevue Essentials program is receiving twice as many people applying than they can take. However, "Don't be discouraged," Executive Director Julie Ellenhorn says, "We invite applicants to apply again if they do not get accepted to the program, and we also provide information on other opportunities at the City." Their goal has always been to keep people engaged in the city and the community, regardless of where they end up.

Diverse Participant Profiles

Bellevue Essentials welcomes individuals interested in understanding the city's day-to-day operations, decision-making processes, and connections to non-profit organizations.

The program strives for demographic representation and typically achieves 45-50% participation from persons of color.

Recruitment efforts extend to cultural communities through the Bellevue Diversity Advisory Network, neighborhood associations, and various organizations, attracting foreign-born participants. Increasingly, many applicants are within their first five years of residency.

Engagement of Graduates and Alumni

The program graduates have become known voices in the community. Sixty of the 350 graduates are either currently serving on a city board or commission or have served and completed a term, a true symbol of the program's efficacy, which is a number Bellevue Essentials touts.

However, the demand to be in these premier leadership roles outweighs the supply. Bellevue Essentials does an incredible job providing information on the many opportunities for further engagement and mentorship and help graduates identify their interests and pursue opportunities. For example, graduates have been involved across the city in neighborhood projects, comprehensive plan outreach efforts, tree canopy discussions, affordable housing efforts, task forces, advisory committees, at events for public input, and many more as a result of going through the program.

Program Details

This program is very specific to Bellevue's nuts-and-bolts with its day-to-day operations. Throughout the 11-week course, almost every city department has either a full session or half a session. These classes are taught by lead staff in their respective departments, as well as the Bellevue Essentials team. Every Council Member comes to the program to speak, as does the City Manager, Deputy City Managers, and current board and commission members/alumni who talk about their experiences.

Beyond the classroom, participants see trips to the Spring District, Utility Service Center, golf course, open acreage with horses, and all the unique neighborhoods to provide insights into the history of Bellevue.

An example of a hands-on activity participants may see is working with the Planning and Development Services Department in creating a master plan for the Grand Connection or a shopping center. This aims to help participants understand the behind-the-scenes complexities with legal, social, and economic constraints in City operations.

This program starts in September with information and orientation meetings on June 8th, June 14th, and June 20th. Applications are due on July 20th for the fall session, which runs from September 20th through November 15th.


Bellevue Essentials is an exceptional civic leadership program that goes beyond the traditional teaching approach, engaging participants in the day-to-day operations and unique aspects of Bellevue. With a diverse participant profile and successful placement of graduates, the program has become an influential force in the community, fostering active involvement and knowledge sharing among individuals passionate about making a difference in their city. Find the opening for Bellevue Essentials here.

Contact Us

Gavin Haines, ELI Director


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