Bellevue class connects community, exceeds expectations | Reporter’s Notebook

It’s a strange thing to have expectations so thoroughly surpassed.

When I signed up for Bellevue Essentials as a reporter looking into improving his ability to cover a city as large as Bellevue, I expected dry. I expected policy, figures and stats.

What I got was something quite different.

Not only do I feel like the Bellevue Essentials course under the guidance of Mike McCormick Huentleman, neighborhood outreach manager, and Julie Ellenhorn, community relations coordinator, was an interesting and thought-provoking nine weeks, but it broadened my view of what it is a city actually does.

Did you know that Bellevue Utilities monitors more than 620 miles of water mains in the city? Or that inside City Hall there is a machine that literally vaporizes gold to detect fingerprints? Or that a firefighter’s hose, turned on at full blast, is heavy enough to push back a grown man?

I didn’t know these things before I took Bellevue Essentials, a class designed for city residents to learn more about the city in which they live. Myself and the other 33 members of the class met nearly all the City Council members and heads of the city government departments, met points of contact all throughout the city and left with a much stronger sense of engagement within city government.

Maybe I’m speaking too much on the behalf of other people, but when I was looking around our group, I saw an incredible diversity. People in their 70s and in their 20s. Teachers, retired people, tech employees, business owners, students all took a tour of public art. Black, white, Asian and Middle Eastern people from all around the world learned how to be more involved in their city.

I saw someone who had been in education all her life attend the class to get tips on writing grants and interacting with the budget process. There were men involved in Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy who took notes on how to be a more effective agent of change in stopping a land-use project they didn’t want to see go forward. Some people in the course absolutely felt it was a good opportunity to meet neighbors and practice English skills.

I’ll stop the advertisement there. I don’t want to write it and you don’t want to read it.

The point is this: Sometimes there’s a distance between journalists and the community we cover. We sit in our offices and call local leaders and elected officials, or go to ribbon-cutting events and snap photos.

We can forget just how much a decision made at the city or regional level can impact people and families. We grow jaded and cynical.

That does a disservice to our readers. Only by getting to know our community and its needs and wants can we truly paint the whole picture with our words.

Suffice it to say, that wasn’t what I expected to get out of Bellevue Essentials.

I’m not from Bellevue. Or the Eastside. Or even Washington. But after 10 weeks sitting with good citizens who want to make their city the best it can be, I can say it brought out the same feeling in me.

And that exceeded all my expectations.

For more information on Bellevue Essentials, visit

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