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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 7:47 am | Fair 35º

 
 
 
 
Good for Santa Barbara

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center a Community Jewel with Far-Reaching Support

Innovative partnerships help small-town nonprofit achieve larger goals for conservation of unique dunes ecosystem

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dune Center, in Guadalupe promotes the conservation and restoration of the dunes ecosystem. Click to view larger
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dune Center, in Guadalupe promotes the conservation and restoration of the dunes ecosystem. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

In the northwestern-most corner of Santa Barbara County, in a community with the lowest per-capita income on the Central Coast, sits a jewel in the region’s nonprofit crown.

Through slow growth, community outreach and the commitment of donors and corporate partners, the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center is on track to bring big changes to little Guadalupe.

“Very little of our funding comes from Guadalupe,” executive director Doug Jenzen told Noozhawk. “We rely on the entire Central Coast to support us.”

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With its home nearly straddling the Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo county lines, the center’s donors span the region, although most funding comes from Nipomo, the Five Cities and Santa Barbara.

“That’s why, as we develop our long-term mission with our expansion, we’re looking for ways to be relevant to the entire Central Coast in a way that maybe expands beyond the 18 miles of dunes,” Jenzen said.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center —mlocated in a 1,000-square-foot, converted Victorian-era home built in 1902 on the western edge of Guadalupe — promotes the conservation and restoration of the Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes ecosystem through education, research and the support of cooperative stewardship.

The location provides public access to animal specimens, interactive exhibits, docent-led walks, special events and a collection of short films about the area.

Students from all over the Central Coast head to the Guadalupe dunes for field trips. Click to view larger
Students from all over the Central Coast head to the Guadalupe dunes for field trips. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The center serves as one model for nonprofit organizations in rural communities, where funding isn’t always available from neighbors and local businesses. Working with foundations around the county, businesses throughout the region and visitors from around the world, the Dunes Center has kept its doors open in one manner or another since 1999.

“We’re at our maximum limit for how many people we can serve, how many schoolchildren we can get in here at any one time,” Jenzen said.

Students from as far away as Lompoc and San Luis Obispo travel to Oso Flaco Lake for field trips led by Dunes Center personnel. Every child in Guadalupe schools eventually finds his or her way into that limited space.

“Every (Guadalupe) third-grader comes here during a unit on civics and communities, every (Guadalupe) fifth-grader for a unit on habitats,” Jenzen said. “We have in-class programs and after-school programs.

“So when you’re contributing to the Dunes Center, you’re contributing to every single child in this town.”

Activities at the Dunes Center also have been shown to directly affect the community’s economy.

“When the Dunes Center unveiled the sphinx head from (the 1923 filming of The Ten Commandments) in 2013, there was a correlation with sales tax revenue generated in the city” Jenzen explained. “You could go to any of the restaurants down the street, walk in and everyone in there had been at the Dunes Center that day.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dune Center is at 1065 Guadalupe St. but has hopes to move to the old Far Western Tavern, thanks to the Minetti family’s donation of the 10,000-square-foot building. The donation is contingent on the center moving forward with building renovations. Click to view larger
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dune Center is at 1065 Guadalupe St. but has hopes to move to the old Far Western Tavern, thanks to the Minetti family’s donation of the 10,000-square-foot building. The donation is contingent on the center moving forward with building renovations.  (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“We are an economic driver. You can see that.”

Even in its current location off the main track, the Dunes Center has managed to attract visitors from across the globe. About 10 percent of its visitors come from out of the country and 30 percent from points in the United States outside of California.

The center also has seen its fair share of challenges.

“The recession was not kind to Guadalupe,” Jenzen said. “People stopped coming, and it caused a lot of nonprofits to have to reorganize and re-evaluate what they did.

“During those tough years, a lot of programs were canceled if there wasn’t financial support to allow them to continue.”

Shifts in the economy forced the Dunes Center to further hone its priorities, develop a more focused long-term plan and begin working more closely with the community and other nearby cultural organizations, including the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, the Rancho de Guadalupe Historical Society and the Family Resource Center.

Ben Oakley is government affairs manager for ERG Resources.  “The ability for ERG and the Dunes Center to maintain these relationships leads to further opportunities for ERG to support other programs as they develop,” he says. Click to view larger
Ben Oakley is government affairs manager for ERG Resources.  “The ability for ERG and the Dunes Center to maintain these relationships leads to further opportunities for ERG to support other programs as they develop,” he says. (ERG Resources photo)

“It’s really important to work with other organizations in the community because, while we have a certain constituency that knows about us and is comfortable enough to participate, to make ourselves relevant to the largest number of people possible, we have to start a conversation beyond the people who already know us,” Jenzen said.

“We want to make sure the public can see themselves in our exhibits.”

Enter the Minetti family, who in 2015 donated to the center its historic, 10,000-square-foot cornerstone building in downtown Guadalupe on the condition that the renovation project move forward in a timely manner.

“The project is great because it’s a case study on how to revitalize a community using arts and culture,” Jenzen explained. “It seems to be working in other places where once you had the empty downtown area. You put in a museum or theater and people start coming, spending money and supporting local businesses. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”

The longtime home of the Far Western Tavern could provide Dunes Center visitors and staff up to 12,000 square feet to explore amid the property’s two stories, a basement and a carriage house.

“Fixing up the Minetti building will aesthetically improve the town, and get some of the millions who travel down Highway 1 to stop and visit us and other businesses in Guadalupe,” Jenzen said.

Granting foundations and other supporters were quick to see the benefits of such a move.

“The new location will allow the Dunes Center to expand its programs, become an anchor cultural center for Guadalupe,” said Ben Oakley, government affairs manager with ERG Resources, a financial companion for the Dunes Center.

ERG, which partners with the Dunes Center on wetland restoration, helps fund after-school programs and provides staffing for a variety of fundraising opportunities.

It began its partnership when an employee served on the Dunes Center board. Today, Oakley maintains communication between the oil-and-gas production company and the environmental nonprofit.

“The ability for ERG and the Dunes Center to maintain these relationships leads to further opportunities for ERG to support other programs as they develop,” Oakley said.

When the Minetti project emerged, ERG took the lead in helping to hire an architect.

“It’s one of those unique one-off projects we’ve been able to step in and fund because we know each other,” Oakley said. “We said we’d help fund that effort to create plans so the center could start moving forward, to figure out how to logistically set forward plans to deal with the gift the Minettis provided.

“We consider it seed money that will really get them going in the direction of a larger capital campaign.”

A core support grant from the Santa Barbara-based Hutton Parker Foundation afforded the little nonprofit big opportunities in working with a fundraising consultant with a track record.

First step: Determine the long-term direction through a survey of prominent, influential community members with interests in the future of the Dunes Center and the community.

“A large percentage of our funding comes from grants,” Jenzen said. “That’s not sustainable. You’re not guaranteed to get grants from year to year, so our strategic plan increases the percentage of income we hope to receive in donations and contributions.

“We’re hoping the public will be on board with that.”

Jenzen is also particularly interested in a Santa Barbara Foundation-funded study of a consortium of nonprofit leaders in the county with a focus on how to make the arts and culture sector sustainable.

“What we’re seeing is that too many people seem to be operating in silos,” he said. “We need to work together, coordinate our efforts, if we expect to survive well into the future.”

Click here for more information about the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center. Click here to make an online donation.

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Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Clouds gathered above the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes before a storm Dec. 21. Click to view larger
Clouds gathered above the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes before a storm Dec. 21. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

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