2021 All-America City Finalist – Bellevue, WA

In the past five years, Bellevue has seen tremendous growth and economic investment. However, Bellevue is struggling with the pains of growth, including a lack of affordable housing, increasing homelessness, and the struggle of seniors to afford “aging in place.” With increased development, concerns about environmental sustainability and a decline in sense of community have grown.  Bellevue’s featured projects reflect collaborative efforts to mitigate these growing pains and create an equitable and resilient place for all residents to call home.   

Inspirational Playground: A Castle for Every Princess!

The City of Bellevue had several creative and inclusive services for those with disabilities and their families, but the community saw a need to do more.

The Bellevue Rotary Club approached the city about creating an inclusive playground designed for children of all abilities. As the rotary club met with the city and the community, a vision for Inspiration Playground began to take shape, and Downtown Park was identified as an ideal place.

The next step was to engage the community for greater understanding and input. A “Play for All Expo” was held in the Downtown Park to share the Inspiration Playground concept with the community, and to celebrate and learn about community support programs for people living with disabilities. The city and the rotary club continued to engage stakeholders and the community on playground design. Specific effort was made to solicit input from parents with children with disabilities.

Next, the Rotary Club of Bellevue led a multi-year community-wide fundraising campaign, with over 25 organizations, and numerous individual donors contributing to the 4.5-million-dollar project.

By 2017, the city completed construction of Inspiration Playground and celebrated the opening ceremony. Inspiration Playground is now an inclusive play space enjoyed regionally by families and individuals of all ages and abilities, who play and explore at their own pace.

Additionally, trained community playground ambassadors volunteer to help make the playground fun and inclusive. They are energetic and enthusiastic, easy to talk to, and accessible for children who need assistance or have questions.

Diversity Advantage Initiative: Learning and Responding

Bellevue’s Diversity Advantage Initiative was created by the community working with the city to create specific recommendations around the areas of cultural competence within both the city organization and community.

The Diversity Advantage Initiative is advanced by the Bellevue City Council and the Leadership Team, Bellevue Diversity Advisory Network (BDAN), and The Diversity Advantage Team.

Building Cultural Competency within City Government

The city has worked to advance the Diversity Advantage Plan and to apply the principles of equity, access, and inclusion within department specific workplans. A sample of actions include:

  • Additional staff training in Cultural Competence Foundations, Implicit Bias for Hiring Managers, Title VI and ADA, and Universal Design.
  • Formation of Staff Employee Groups: Disabilities Allyship Resource Team, Employees of Bellevue for Racial and Cultural Equity, and Rainbow Alliance for Diversity.
  • Diversity Talent Hiring Initiative.
  • Procurement Diversity and Inclusion Plan.

Building Cultural Competency in the Community

In a normal year, the focus on building community cultural competence is centered around public programs that provide cultural learning and interaction such as Welcoming Week, Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebrations, and several others.

In response to the uniqueness of 2020, the Diversity Advantage Team provided a progress update on the Diversity Advantage Plan during a Diversity Summit, featuring community sessions on racial equity.

The Diversity Advantage Initiative has specific recommendations on how to advance and improve the civic engagement of the entire community:

  1. Establish trust within the social networks of diverse communities.
  2. Develop and implement a strategy to increase diverse representation on city boards, commissions, advisory committees, and task forces.
  3. Offer interpretation, translation, and accommodation services at public meetings.
  4. Collaborate with local partner organizations to develop community leadership training and mentoring programs benefiting underrepresented population groups.
  5. Develop and implement a civic engagement strategy to increase general participation in local government among diverse populations.
  6. Ensure that civic engagement events include follow up efforts to inform participants of how their input has influenced decision making.
  7. Provide funding and partnerships to community groups or initiatives that meet City of Bellevue diversity goals.

The recommendations are viewed as work assignments for departments to track efforts and progress.

Jubilee Reach and the Community: Meeting Crucial Needs in a Pandemic

Jubilee REACH serves the children, youth and families of Bellevue through school site coaches, ESL classes at the Jubilee Center, a thrift store, and community service days to provide service to seniors and vulnerable adults.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Jubilee REACH listened to the families already being served and decided to redirect efforts and become an essential service to help the most vulnerable in the following ways.

  • 746 families and an estimated 3,357 people have been provided with groceries, hygiene products, and pantry items once a week.
  • 100 families have received financial support to help with utility bills, rent and essential needs.
  • Support to families has been increased from $150 to $300 per year during this crisis.
  • A weekly warm meal delivery service supports 32 isolated seniors.
  • The Jubilee REACH Thrift Store received donations that went directly to assisting families with clothing, housewares, and furniture.
  • As schools went virtual, existing site coaches continued to provide social and emotional support to students, working creatively, and connecting virtually to deepen connections and help students feel a sense of purpose and belonging during the crisis.

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