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  • Gig Harbor Living Local

Foundation to Resume Capital Campaign

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Community Campus inching toward reality

By Colin Anderson

Photo Courtesy of Greater Gig Harbor Foundation

Like all other organizations regionally and across the country, the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation (GGHF) hit a roadblock in March, just when it was about to launch its Capital Campaign in hopes of completing the much-anticipated Community Campus. Despite the snag, wheels continue to churn, and the group is anticipating opening its new digs by the time school starts again in the fall of 2021. “The overarching vision is to have a place where we can continue the work that we do as an organization, ensure our school will have plenty of space, and a place where we will be able to grow our programs and share them with the community,” explained CEO and founding member Julie Ann Gustanski.

Julie has seen the organization expand greatly in the 15 years she’s been a part of it. What started as one project to purchase 19 acres for a community park has expanded into multiple annual projects, a nature-based school, senior center and EnviroCorp program. In 2019, GGHF provided more than 10,000 hours of community service through 630 volunteers and invested $891,000 in capital into the community as well.

As the foundation continues to grow, its current headquarters is bursting at the seams.

Where once it had 18 acres to utilize, due to long foreseen development it is down to just 2—not including the park across the street. Julie explained that a chance meeting put them in touch with a landowner, when their dream of a new home began to take shape. “He’s a fourth generation Gig Harbor resident but had moved out after college and then decided to retire here,” she explained. The resident had just purchased 32 acres in the Artondale area most known as the “Graham Ranch,” which had been in the same family since the 1950s. Through several years of discussions, it was agreed that the Greater Gig Harbor Community Foundation’s Community Campus would be built on 6 of those acres.

Renderings were created and permitting was done, and the Capital Campaign was just about to kick off when the shutdown happened. There have been a few additional hiccups along the way, but most have been resolved. GGHF has secured funding from Pierce County, the legislature and several private donors, and plans to launch the Capital Campaign again this November. The goal is to raise approximately $300,000 over the next 12 months in order to complete the project, so the early education center can welcome kiddos at the start of next school year.

Much of the project will center around restoration of the property, which includes old buildings and the grounds themselves. Existing residence buildings as well as the garage, barn and carport area will be transformed and repurposed to provide office areas, meeting space, and educational/classroom spaces for environment-based educational programs, summer camps and research. Volunteers are in the process of restoring natural vegetation and habitat areas as well as wildflower meadows and a trail system. “This isn’t just a place for us to have offices and run our programs but a place where people in the community can come and connect with nature,” said Julie.

The Curious By Nature School will be a big part of the Community Campus. The school is a one-of-a-kind nature-based early childcare center designed for children ages 2 through 6. On top of the standard curriculum, students spend a majority of their time learning outside rain or shine. The curriculum promotes opportunities for children to learn about seasons, plants, animals, ecosystems, weather, habitats, people and cultures. With the expanded natural spaces, gardens, orchard, foliage and pond, the school can expand on its mission of immersing children in nature. “Building, bridging and enriching are three of our main principals, and this campus will be a place to fulfill each of those,” said Julie. GGHF sees tons of opportunities for experimental education and growth for the school at this location.

Many hands make light work, and with a loyal group of volunteers, many projects are underway, but that’s not to say GGHF couldn’t use a few more hands to help out. The bulk of the building restoration and planting of local plants and grasses will be done by volunteers. There are many opportunities if you would like to help out, which you can find out by visiting or emailing current Chief Operating Officer, and Julie’s daughter, Ariel Gustanski at

For more than three years, the Community Campus has been in the planning stages, and organizers are excited to finally see light at the end of the tunnel. The foundation realizes it still has significant money to raise but is confident the community will help step up to create a place for all to enjoy.

“We are an engaged organization that constantly works together to enhance the lives of residents of the greater peninsula region,” said Julie. “Bringing our community together is what this campus will be all about.”

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