It Takes A Community To Build A Community For All Ages

Filed Under: Philanthropy,Social Benefit Economy - Posted @ 11:34am

The Mustard Seed Project on Key Peninsula, like most nonprofit businesses, achieves its mission through a mix of vision, funding, and broad community support. As the organization has grown its impact and revenue, connections with diverse funders and philanthropic tools help further secure its long-term stability. 

Multi-generational bingo at The Mustard Seed Project

“Getting older is something that, if we’re lucky, we all experience,” Eric Blegen, Executive Director, leads The Mustard Seed Project team of employees, volunteers, and community members in cultivating an elder-friendly Key Peninsula. On a recent weekday, a joyful crowd gathered to celebrate the grand re-opening of The Mustard Seed Cafe, closed for a remodel since late 2023. Open to people of all ages, the cafe provides a space for socializing and eating well. 

Eric Blegen with Mustard Seed Cafe Staff

Other services like car rides to appointments, in-home volunteer help, and a new assisted living housing project are part of how The Mustard Seed Project has grown services and spaces since 2006 to support people to “age in place” in the close-knit, rural community on the other side of the Purdy spit. “I think it’s part of the isolation out here. We’re far from the resources of Tacoma, and people are very independent. But people are also very willing and wanting to help others. They know they’re going to get there eventually, too.”  

Friends at The Mustard Seed Cafe

In 2022, the William A Looney Family Foundation made a transformative gift to The Mustard Seed Project. William A Looney, a successful realtor who died in 2015, established the foundation to be sure that seniors weren’t forgotten. Eric observed, “That’s why they liked us. Because we do what Bill wanted to do with his resources.”  

Like most nonprofit businesses, Eric and his Board work to build sustainable resources for their organization.  They saw the Looney Foundation grant as an opportunity for a strategic approach that would allow them to plan ahead and avoid being in “crisis mode”. 

“We told the Looney Foundation it would take 2 to 4 years to completely do all those projects. In the meantime, we have these funds, and decided that a good place for them to make a better return would be an Agency Fund at Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF). That was part of our Finance committee’s goal, rather than having them sitting in the bank.  

“It means we don’t have to become money managers. If we hadn’t done that, then we would have had to spend more time and effort figuring out, ‘how are we going to get a good return on these funds?’ And I’m not an investment person, so I don’t know about that, but as the Executive Director, I would be stuck with that job.”  

GTCF Investment Committee

When an organization opens an Agency Fund at GTCF, the dollars are stewarded with guidance from the Investment Committee, a team of finance and investment professionals who set the investment policy and decision-making process. Gary Brooks, Senior Wealth Advisor at Mission Wealth, and Chair of GTCF’s Investment Committee, explained what makes community foundation investing different from investing for an individual, “Acting as a committee, utilizing the advice and resources of multiple investment managers, we are able to think long-term and be less reactive than many individuals are during moments when investment markets move to their extremes, in both directions. We adhere to well-established guidelines for management of multiple pools of money with different objectives, which can be aligned with the varied goals of Fund Advisors.”  

Eric Blegen recounted how The Mustard Seed Project’s Agency Fund has supported more than just projects, “Income streams are unpredictable for nonprofits. And we saw that from pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, to now. In 2020, there were all sorts of resources available for nonprofits that had not been there before: the Paycheck Protection Program money from the Federal Government and the Cares Act funding that came through Pierce County. We were able to take some of that money and put it aside. We created a board reserve fund.  

“But now, post-pandemic, we’ve seen all of those funding streams kind of dry up. And so having an Agency Fund that’s there, in case of an emergency, or whatever, to meet the changing funding stream landscape is a huge benefit.” 

The Village Assisted Living at The Mustard Seed Project


The Agency Fund at GTCF has also supported The Mustard Seed Project in other ways according to Eric, “The fact that we have these funds sitting there was a big positive for us as we were raising funds. We leverage those funds to get additional funds from other sources. Pierce County was hugely helpful. And then the state of Washington gave us 2 grants. And then a USDA loan, a rural direct community facilities loan gave us the rest of the funding to build the building.”  

In addition to direct funding and hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual donors, Eric said The Mustard Seed Project also learned about programs Pierce County offers directly to senior individuals, “There’s a weatherization fund. There’s a major home repair fund. A utility assistance fund. We didn’t know about those programs until recently.” Through community connections, including financial and funding partners, Eric and his team keep growing the resources and opportunities that help Key Peninsula’s residents remain a vital part of the community as they age.


Community Gathers Inside The Village

With The Mustard Seed Cafe back in business, Eric looks forward to the next project to complete, “Adding an outdoor exercise area that’s designed for older folks so that they can stay balanced and fit as much as possible. It’ll be outside here. And also great for the grandkids.   

“I really envision a vibrant place for elders to enjoy walking around and just be spending time outside, and their families come in to visit, and the kids and all of that,” Eric shared the long-term vision for the 6-acre campus of The Mustard Seed Project. “A good place for people to come, walk, hang out, and enjoy, instead of having elders isolated in some place people don’t want to go.   

“That intergenerational connection is just the best thing for everybody, especially the elders. It shows that getting older is not necessarily a terrible thing, that it can be really a good thing, and you can have your final years be in a place that’s beautiful. That’s my biggest motivation.”  



The Mustard Seed Project  

Agency Funds at GTCF  

GTCF Financial Information 


Explore the ways an Agency Fund can support your organization by talking with a GTCF Philanthropic Advisor. Contact  


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