Unsung Hero — Julie Ann Gustanski

Greater Gig Harbor Foundation
Julie Ann Gustanski, CEO Greater Gig Harbor Foundation — One daughter, Resident of Gig Harbor
Julie Ann Gustanski
CEO Greater Gig Harbor Foundation
One daughter, Resident of Gig Harbor

Julie Ann Gustanski is a founding member (together with Vernon Young, Eric Guenther and Mike Paul, Jr.) of the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. All of her work for the foundation — including, currently, as the CEO — has been volunteer service.

Prior to her current role, Gustanski served as the first treasurer, then as president for seven years — annually, she has contributed an average of 1,090 volunteer hours since 2006.

Founded as the PenMet Foundation, the organization was created originally to help PenMet Parks with the $1.25 million purchase of 18.7 acres of land that is now home to Harbor Family Park. In 2011, the name was changed to the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation to reflect an expanded umbrella that includes diverse needs of communities across the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula region.

During Gustanski’s tenure as president between 2007 and 2014, the foundation underwent significant evolution and growth. During this time, the majority of her work was focused on fund development, grant writing, marketing and event planning and implementation.

Among her accomplishments was leading a campaign and fund development for diverse community projects, programs, funds and capital projects generating more than $4.4 million in assets, along with preparing and administering grants generating approximately $1.5 million. Her current day-to-day efforts include a long list of duties, from supervising staff and operations to marketing, real estate negotiations and donor development.

Harbor Family ParkGustanski, whose professional work is as a principal and senior economist with Resource Dimensions, has a doctorate degree in economics and nearly three decades of combined experience as an economist, policy analyst, litigation counsel, planner, manager, researcher, statistician, organization strategist, grants manager and fund development specialist.

She became involved in nonprofit work in 1983, as a canvasser for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. The grassroots, student-directed organization was successful in advocating for the passage of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, which created the country’s sole paddle-only wilderness area.

“From there, my interest in catalyzing change, community engagement and volunteerism grew with the various legs of my educational journey and I’ve been involved in nonprofit work ever since,” she says.

She also serves on the Pierce County Conservation Futures program advisory board, and has been directly involved with organizations such as the American Farmland Trust, Autism Speaks, Center for Environmental Law and Policy and National Parks Foundation, to name a few.

Why Be Involved

I was raised with the belief that giving back was not just important; it was a responsibility — and one that should be taken seriously. As second-generation immigrants, my siblings and I had a glimpse at the depths of poverty and the tough grind family members before us endured for the privilege of life and the opportunities that America presented. Out of our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences grew a great sense of pride and duty to make a positive contribution daily, throughout our life.

Today, much of the work I engage in through my firm is also tied to a deep-seeded commitment to community service, both in terms of financial giving, expertise and resources, and volunteerism. I believe that we have a responsibility to help and support the communities where we live and work.

Why Do This Work

Community foundations are a unique community tool because they are not just about one particular cause or one particular organization. We care about everything that contributes to a healthy, vibrant quality of life across our greater peninsula community, from arts and culture, to education, parks and the environment, to recreation and social capital. We are a local organization with deep roots in the community and we are in the business of building community. We invest in the long term and bring people, resources and organizations together to create positive change and convene diverse voices to address local issues and opportunities.

Best Part of the “Job”

Although this is my volunteer job, I take it every bit as seriously as my profession. Beyond the obvious reason of affecting change for something that I care about and helping others make profound differences in our community, the best part is working with the most incredible people — staff, board and volunteers — and getting to know the many generous people who have partnered with the foundation over the years.

And, of course, developing events, such as the Cider Swig (the Greater Peninsula Cider Festival), The Green Gig and GHKP Make A Difference Day, that help build connections across our community and benefit some of the foundation’s community funds, has been very rewarding. Seeing hundreds of volunteers show up, roll up their sleeves and pitch in each year to help make each year a bigger success than the year before — and all in turn goes back into our community.

Biggest Challenge

Probably the biggest challenge is that concrete results or clear benchmarks of success can be difficult to spot. Over the past nine years, the foundation has made some very significant contributions to our community on many fronts — from providing direct services and early childhood education, to raising funds, advocating for and providing support to a variety of community projects, programs and organizations. Still, with all that has been accomplished, we need to be able to look long term and accept that work we are doing day to day now is contributing to a larger, more important goal — the vitality, resiliency and sustainability of our community for today and for generations to come.

Best Compliment “On the Job”

It was a huge surprise and honor to have received the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit Community Service Award in 2010. Unbeknownst to me, the conspiracy was at least in part spearheaded by Vernon Young, whom I had suggested the foundation nominate that year. In over 30 years of volunteering and working with nonprofits large and small, I can say it is rare to have known a person with such spirited determination to take action and challenges for the greater good. So, to be honored in this way at his instigation remains among the highest and best compliments I have received in my work for the foundation.

Things I can’t do without

My daughter, family and my crazy, wonderful friends — they help keep me grounded and mostly sane. My dogs, who put a smile on my face and offer unconditional love. My work, because It gives me a purpose. Love. Joy. Wonder. Imagination. Coffee, wine and chocolate (according to current studies, they are all good for me). Random adventures, nature and music.

Hobbies Outside of Work

My passion is nature in every respect — hiking, kayaking and gardening are my mainstays, though nothing is more refreshing than gliding through the soft, freshly fallen snow in the quiet woods, with cold snowflakes melting on my face and a biting north wind challenging me. I grew up in Minnesota and remember my first pair of Nordic skis more than 40 years ago — I am ever so thankful for Washington’s Methow Valley and its great cross-country skiing tradition and network of trails. I also love to cook, play squash and spend time with my daughter, Ariel, and our two dogs.