Social Capital and Building a Community Foundation

President of the Greater Gig Harbor FoundationApril 23, 2014 

BEYOND HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHIES The multifaceted lens through which I interpret the world – economics, law, land use, conservation and social impact investment – has across time brought me to consider what makes a community vibrant, sustainable and a place we want to call home?

As described by Robert Putnam, in “Bowling Alone,” a community’s well-being depends on the quality of the relationships among its citizens. History, geographies, leadership and socioeconomic status may help to explain a community and its success, but its social capital creates a sense of belonging and enhances its overall health – the glue that holds a community together.

More diverse than any time in its history, our greater Peninsula community has changed during the past few decades, bringing new opportunities and expanded responsibilities. And, while the pressures of time and money, suburbanization and the vast electronification of just about everything have been active factors in the decline of social capital, something interesting has happened in communities across the nation: the rebirth of community foundations. As distinctive as the communities they serve, community foundations are social capital magnets.

You say, “Community foundation – we have one?” Indeed, we do. Since 2006, the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation has worked collaboratively to raise funds that go to strengthen and expand the arts and culture, education, parks and the environment, recreation and social capital assets of our greater Peninsula community.

As a founding member and president for the past seven years, I have had the good fortune to work with many people on both peninsulas — people with different talents, experiences and views, and from many different places — sharing collective responsibility for our community.

Community collaboration is vital – it is an accelerator. It unifies and defines the spirit of a place. It provides a multidimensional view of how a community can embrace its potential. It leads to systemic changes that improve people’s lives – whether through education, empowerment or increased opportunities. Community collaboration is democratic and inclusive – it involves shared decision-making wherein all stakeholders work together to develop a whole-community strategy for action to meet diverse needs. It both builds and relies upon social capital.

While we still hear, “What is the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation?” most who live or work here directly or indirectly experience the foundation’s work – and many daily.

Cold, hard facts tell part of the story, since 2006, we have raised more than $3 million in assets that have benefited our community. From volunteer service, to education grants and scholarships, to acquiring lands for public parks and trails and ensuring the region’s first Boundless playground, to sponsoring community-based events on both peninsulas and leading the charge on the first Gig Harbor Beer Festival and the 2013 Chum Festival, the foundation has supported numerous agencies, individuals, projects and programs. And, behind each of these, there are hundreds of people who tell the real story.

Extending its umbrella in 2012, the foundation now includes a small community-oriented nature-based early childhood education center, GGHF Curious by Nature School. By 2013, five Core Area Boards were established, through which more than 40 community leaders from diverse organizations and backgrounds engage across five service areas. Through collective knowledge, commitment and collaboration, each CAB has developed a vision for its work in the community, together with innovative targets to deliver essential capacity to meet diverse community needs and provide opportunities that will enrich all lives. Several 2014 community activities highlight the array:

 • May 3: Fourth annual The Green Gig LOCALLY GROWN

 • June 4: Education “Take Over” at The Hub at Gig Harbor

 • Sept. 27: Cider Swig — the Greater Peninsula Cider Festival

 • October 25: Second annual GHKP Make A Difference Day celebration

Importantly, all bear an invitation to attend and an opportunity to get involved!

Other initiatives include the Students of Distinction Fund, Greater Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour, and the Coach Joel Wingard Cross-Country Scholarship Fund. The Students of Distinction program, celebrating its 12th year, has awarded more than $120,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors from our schools. OST will celebrate its 20th season in September with the greatest number of participating artists ever, and the first two Coach Wingard Scholarships will be awarded this May.

To think — all this started with a small group of people, inspired by the opportunity to help our fledgling park district acquire 19 acres of land for a park. Thank you to our founding president Vernon Young for seeing the need and responding with such love, and to all who have shared the journey through their time and philanthropic passions.

Come join in the powerful work to build, bridge and enrich our community. Board elections are just around the corner, so call for more information. Contact us 253-514-6338 or

Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski is President of the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation, a charitable 501(c)(3) nonprofit community foundation created by and for local citizens to benefit their greater Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula community. Community foundations make up one of the fastest growing sectors of philanthropy, and there are more than 750 community foundations in the United States today.

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