Kids and Brain Injury

I was invited to speak at an International Pediatric Brain Injury Conference that was held recently in Rome Italy.  There were 500 delegates from 43 different nations, gathered together in the "Eternal City," to share the latest research and trends in this penetrating topic.

My keynote focused on the power and potency of social capital, especially for kids.  We know clearly that when disability occurs, people lose much of their social capital.  As friends depart, the social challenges can become more intense.  Add this to the physical and cognitive issues and families can be seriously compromised.  My talk and the importance of social capital went over well.

After my keynote, I had the opportunity to participate in the gathering by attending workshops and panel discussions on childhood brain injury.  There were some illuminating talks.  One thing I learned is the childhood injuries are on the rise, and that sports related brain injuries are one of the major culprits.  I was amazed to learn that at the core of this increase is linked to kids starting contact sports at earlier ages.  Football, hockey, and soccer,  sports where kids can easily injure their brains, all have peewee divisions.  As these kids start sooner, and practice longer, they continue to be exposed to continued aggravation to the brain.

One talk suggested that the worst blows for children to experience are ones to the side of the head.  A blind side tackle, a check into the boards, or a side propelled header all can do much more intense damage to a young brain.  (Actually, to any aged brain!).  And researchers are clear that helmets, even more intense padding in the helmet, do not really help.  Even with a helmet, the brain still floats in the cranium and the impact alone causes damage.

Now we all know that sports reign supreme, and nothing in the US is more popular than football.  Young children (and their families) dream about sports success and the celebrity that this can bring.  Still, we are seeing younger and younger athletes showing signs of brain injuries and one has to wonder where will it all end.

One encouraging fact is that more and more parents, given this information, are directing their children to the non-impact sports.  If more and more families go in this direction, perhaps the contact sports will begin to lose favor, much like boxing has, and we will see a decline in childhood brain injury.



Holidays and Social Capital

A lot of the work we do at CLASS is to help people begin to build more social capital in their lives.  We especially focus on how folks who have significant disabilities, and tend to be more socially isolated, can find connections.  But as the holidays are right around the corner, it is perfect time to think about how we can nurture the relationships we already have in our lives.

To maintain and sustain relationships require work.  We can not take our friends for granite and need to take advantage of any window that might help in this process.  Enter the holidays!  They offer the perfect reason to reach out look for ways you can refresh, or renew a connection.

Certainly holidays can be hectic; but this hectic reality is mitigated by the positive mood most people display at holiday time.  So keep this in mind; think about those important people in your life and find time to reach out.  Get a drink, or sit down to a meal.  Nurture these relationship and surely good things will come back to you.

Guns and Violence

Most of the time I focus this blog on issues related to social capital, community engagement, and inclusion of all people into the community mix.  But sitting in a hotel room tonight, where I am scheduled to speak at a conference tomorrow, and watching the news report on the senseless killings of over 58 people attending a Las Vegas concert has deeply touched me.

It seems that at regular intervals we have these killing sprees in the United States - Columbine, Virginia Tech, Orlando, and Sandy Hook, just to name a few, have cut deep into our psyche.  And when these atrocities unfold, our leaders quickly blame the shooter as being mentally unstable, and stop at that.  Oh, we sometimes give lip service to the role that guns play in violence and to gun control, yet these discussions never really see the light of day.  Perhaps it is because the NRA has a grip on Congress, or because people are quick to bring up the Second Amendment as if any element of gun control will threaten the right to bear arms.

Now I am not a gun control fanatic, but I do feel that we need to have a viable conversation about the totally open, and ubiquitous proliferation of guns in our country.  It is important for us to understand that the violence we witnessed in Las Vegas is but a high point.  We need to recognize that daily, hundreds of violent acts unfold in the United States on the streets and in homes that can only be traced back to the easy access to guns.  Certainly the notion of assault weapons, like the ones used in Las Vegas, have no place in our society.  These weapons are of no use for hunters and sportsman, and are only designed for mass killings found in war.

When will we wake up as a society and begin to act like adults on this serious problem we have in our country.  With sensible discussions and action on this issue we can begin to move forward, as civilized nations should, and we just might save some lives down the road.

What is the Paradigm that Influences You?

As I write this blog, I am attending a conference in Rome Italy, that is focusing in on Pediatric Brain Injury.  I was invited to deliver a keynote on the "Importance of Social Capital as an Antidote to Social Isolation."

Needless to say, the majority of delegates at this international, some 500 folks from 43 nations, are primarily from medically allied disciplines - medicine, psychology, rehabilitation, social work and the like.  So I framed my talk in a fairly broad way, discussing micro and macro implications, and exploring what we know about the impact of social capital on our lives.  It was a fairly generic look at critical topic for us all.

The talk was well received and I was pleased that the audience generally accepted and seemingly agreed with the points I was making.  As the conference proceeded, and especially during the breaks and social time we spent, it was intriguing to me how various people responded to me on what they made out of the talk.  Given that there were 43 countries represented of course there were cultural interpretations.  There were also generational and gender differences that influenced how people thought about relationships.

Most interesting to me, however, where how various disciplines/life experiences reacted to the talk.  The MD's from a framework of health; the psychologist's thinking about behaviors; and on and on.  This notion of how we hear and interpret things, and especially those things that are broad and sweeping, primarily from our paradigm of influence.

This, of course, makes sense and seems quite natural in the course of things, but may also be the reason why change takes so long to unfold.  If you hear something that goes against the grain of your paradigm, it could be the reason why new things often don's see the light of day. 

Family Engagement Patterns - What We Need To Learn

We know that developing more social capital in our lives is tied to many good things like better health, deeper happiness, and even life expectancy.  We also know that developing social capital is tied to our engagement patterns in the community.  As we get involved in things, and meet new people, these relationships begin to impact our lives.  Some of these new relationships deepen, others end rather quickly, and still others linger but don't get much deeper than superficiality.

Given the importance of engagement in the social capital process, we have gotten interested in how people actually learn how to "engage."  As there are no formal classes or tutoring in this topic, it seems evident that we learn engagement by observing our families and friends as they connect with others.  We watch our parents and other family members first in social situations, and then in more formal activities such as church, school, and other such settings.

In thinking about this our organization CLASS ( has partnered with Chatham University in Pittsburgh to explore the engagement patterns of families who have children with disabilities compared to families whose children do not have disability labels.  We are curious to see if there is any fundamental difference in these 2 cohorts.  To explore this topic we are using the Social Capital Benchmarking Survey established at Harvard University and used to explore individual engagement patterns.  Given our anecdotal experiences with families who have children with disabilities, we think that there will be a significant disparity in engagement patterns, but won't know for sure until we analyze all the data.

Given that we do know that adults with disabilities engage less, we think that the root of this disparity might be due to the fact that their families engaged less, and they had limited exposure to the engagement process.  We are now doing the data analysis in our study and will soon be able to report our findings.  Keep an eye on this blog and when we have the data ready we will report it to you.

Quotes from Cultural Shifting

I reported earlier that 2017 is the 15th anniversary of my third book, "Cultural Shifting" (TRN Press, 2002).  To celebrate this benchmark, I have been re-reading the book, and assessing how well the construct of the book holds up today.  It is my impression that the book still holds water, though I must admit my bias.  Still, as I read it over I was drawn to the quotes that I use in all of my books to underscore concepts or points I am trying to make.  I thought I would share some of these quotes with you in this blog.

"The great people of culture are those who had a passion for diffusing, making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other, the best ideas of their time."  Matthew Arnold.

"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place."   Margret Mead.

"The great law of culture is, let each become all that he was created capable of being."      Thomas Carlyle.

"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.  "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "So I can't take more."  "You mean you can't take less" said the Hatter, "It's very easy to take more than nothing."   Lewis Carroll.

"The behavior of an individual is determined not by their background, but by the character of their ancestry and cultural environment."   Franz Boas

"You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough."  William Blake.

"Turn and face the strange changes."  David Bowie.

"Much of life's circumstances are created by three basic choices: The disciplines you keep; The people you choose to be with; and The laws you choose to obey."  C. Millhoff.

"No great improvement in the lot of mankind is possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought."  J.S. Mills.

"The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings."    Albert Schweitzer.

If you are interested in seeing the context of these quotes with concepts of culture or community, track down a copy of "Cultural Shifting."  You can find some used copies at for only a few dollars.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Relationships and Drugs

I received an interesting article from one of my friends in Brisbane Australia, Ryan.  I met Ryan while working with the good folks from Mamre, an amazing organization serving folks with disabilities and their families in Queensland.  When I was last there in Feb., I did a presentation for Mamre staff on some of the newer developments in the field of social capital.

The article Ryan sent me by Johann Hari, author of the acclaimed book, "Chasing the Scream," summarized efforts to look at the root causes of drug addiction.  Hari highlighted an interesting study that was actually done in the 70's by a professor of psychology in Vancouver BC by the name of Bruce Alexander.  He was intrigued by previous studies that exposed rats, alone in cages, to 2 types of water for consumption.  One of the water sources was plain, but the other was laced with cocaine.  These studies found that the isolated rats turned to the drugged water as their primary source and most of them drank it until they died.

Alexander decided he would try a twist on this effort, so he build a "rat park" which was a lush cage where the rats had good food, tunnels to run through, colored balls, and plenty of other rats to play with and relate.  He also put 2 types of water, the same that was done with the initial experiments, plain, and cocaine laced.

Of course the rats tried both waters as they had easy exposure, but what happened next amazed Alexander.  The rats who had a good life in the "rat park" didn't like the drugged water - and most of them began to ignore it.  But Professor Alexander went further with the study.  He took rats that were in the solo environment, and had become hooked on the drug-laced water, up to 57 days of addiction, and then put them into the "rat park" with the happy rats.  This move from isolation/addiction back to the "rat community" began to change the addicted rats.  Although they had some withdrawal symptoms, soon they began to shun the drug-laced water and went back to having a normal life.

In digesting this study there are some messages.  Certainly rats are different than humans, but there is a powerful similarity.  That is, neither of us do well in isolated situations.  Efforts over the years that have looked at social isolation for humans conclude that it (social isolation) is as lethal as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day!

People (and apparently rats) need each other and when they build social capital their lives are better.  This should be instructive for all of us - so, work to build a good "human park" with good food, and things to play with, and plenty of other people to relate to and your life will certainly improve!


Another Story from Dever

Folks who have some familiarity with my blog, know that from time to time I share some stories from my friend, Larry Tummino.  As a long time advocate for the liberation of people with disabilities who have been institutionalized, Larry and his colleagues have chronicled stories from folks who lived for many years at the Paul A. Dever State School, a large setting for folks with intellectual disabilities in Taunton, MA.  Dever, like most of these institutions set up all over the United States to "care" for people with disabilities, was closed in 2002.  In spite of their intentions, most of these institutions became brutal and unbearable settings, where the residents were treated worse than most anyone might imagine.  The monograph, "We Bear Witness" was compiled by Larry and his colleagues so that we would not forget the horrors of institutionalization.

Here is a piece by Jim Ross, dedicated to his friend Peter, who lived at Dever, at perhaps its lowest point:

From horror to horror.  Peter was brutalized at home as a child, chained in a room and forced to eat and sleep on the floor.  When authorities discovered him, his salvation was to enter a system that included Dever in its most awful days.  When asked about those days, Peter just shakes his head and repeats, like a mantra to keep away evil spirits, "You have no idea; you just have no idea!"

You'd think that Peter's life would have destroyed him, that he would have retreated inward or attacked everything and everyone around him.  There are, I know, many scars on and in Peter, but he has become a gentle and accomplished man.  He is a longtime and valued employee at a local company, making more money than the people hired to provide him modest supports.  His co-workers are involved deeply in Peter's life.  He owns his own condo, living - by choice - by himself.  Peter's will has an inspirational provision:  when he dies, a scholarship fund in his name will be established at the local High School.  It will be used to help college-bound students with disabilities.  Peter is one of my heroes.

The Targets of Hate

Like most of you, I have been deeply troubled by the rise of "hate" in our culture.  More, I have been saddened (and appalled) by the lack of moral leadership and skewed perspective of President Trump in all of this.

We know that hate, and those who promote it, have always been at the fringes of society....and as a society that values free speech, we have from time to time had to listen to this venom.  Still, we all know that there is a clear line that separates the vast majority of us from those that espouse hateful rhetoric; and that these folks should remain in the shadows of society.

But now, given the lack of moral clarity of our President, these ugly messages have drifted into our mainstream and are hurtful, harmful, and incredibly embarrassing for us as a country on the world stage.  Rather than a beacon for freedom and liberty, we have become a divided and confounded nation.

What is particularly concerning for me, as a disability advocate, is that hate spreads.  That is, if we hear these messages of hatred towards different races, religions, or places of origin, then those with disabilities are at risk of being the next target.  Hate is a polarizing phenomena, and if one group can be hated, it becomes easier to hate others.

Enough of this madness.  There must be a clear line in our society that we will not tolerate those that hate!  Take a stand, sound off.  We must hold our President's feet to the fire.  If he tolerates, and in a tacit way endorses these hateful views, he should be removed from office.

Cultural Shifting - 15 Years Later

2017 marks the 15th anniversary of my book, "Cultural Shifting," which was the last of a trilogy I had designed earlier in my career.  I was convinced then, as I am now, that the key to success in the community for people with disabilities is found in the "macro" side of the equation.  That is, in rehabilitation you canfocus on the "micro" which looks at the individual and ways they can function better (think therapy); or you can put attention on the "macro" which looks at the world around the individual and how changes can happen there.

My first book, "Interdependence: The Route to Community," (1991 - 1995) compared and contrasted the micro and macro aspects.  I followed this book up with "Beyond Difference," (1996) which explored the key aspects of community change.  These 2 books, then set the stage for the last of the trilogy, "Cultural Shifting," (2002) that focused attention on culture, community, and leadership to promote change.

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, I recently re-read "Cultural Shifting," and felt good about how well the book holds up, all these years later.  Publishers call this "shelf life," and it seems that this fits for "Cultural Shifting."  The book examines the macro aspects of culture, community, and how change applies to these concepts.

Cultural Shifting was originally published through TRN Press and can be tracked at if any of you are interested in taking a look.  Although I have since written 4 more books, I still feel such an important kinship to my first 3 books, and especially with "Cultural Shifting."

Social Intelligence

Social scientists are quite convinced that of all the types of intelligence we possess, the one most associated with life success is Emotional Intelligence (EQ) or social intelligence.  This is the ability to recognize that our behavior affects others around us and can account for how we are received in social situations.  It seems that we all know people who are highly intelligent, yet can't quite get along with other people.  In a simple analysis, these folks lack social intelligence.

This topic of social intelligence has been on my mind as I prepare for a training session I will be doing soon designed to look a bit deeper at the notion of social capital.  How do we learn "social intelligence?"  Most of us never take classes on this topic, yet, in preparing for life success, as measured through relationship success, social intelligence seems to be the key ingredient.

So I have begun to identify aspects related to social intelligence - or the behaviors that make us socially attractive to other people.  My lens for this task has been my own perspective in social discourse - what kind of person do I find to be socially attractive.  Here are a couple of the items I have chronicled.  As you review this list, let me know what items I might have missed.

*  Be nice to everyone you meet                *  Be positive, even in hard situations

*  Don't talk only about yourself                 *  Don't correct people in public

*  Never put others down                            *  Be the first to smile, say hello, shake hands

*  Always take the high road                       *  Never talk down to anyone

*  Never laugh at another's misfortune       *  Look as nice as possible, even in casual situations

These are but a few of a long list I have been assembling, but I wonder what you think about this topic.  What are the things that make people socially attractive to you?


Reading: The Road to Literacy

I just got back from a week at the beach.  We went to Sandbridge Beach, just south of Virginia Beach and it has been a respite for my family and our friends since our first visit there in 1974 - and this year, as in the past, it did not disappoint.

We had a wonderful week with our friends around food, sun, surf, and some cold beverages!  I had a chance to golf a couple 3 rounds, and caught up on some long overdue reading, finishing 3 excellent books.  There is nothing that baits the intellect like sitting by the sea with a good book.

This vacation got me thinking about the importance of reading.  It has been said that the literate person should be reading 25 to 50 books a year - and - that the majority of this reading should be outside of your field of specialty.  The diversity of reading is thought to push the intellect and to stimulate a broader perspective on life.

I try to read as much as I can, but I must admit, I am not averaging 25 books per year.  In fact, I saw a statistic that suggests that most Americans (and I suspect this might be true in other countries as well) don't read ANY books at all after they get out of school.  

Now I am sure that if this statistic is accurate it might be influenced by a number of factors.  Certainly we know that newspaper reading is down significantly, with many people choosing to get their news online, or via television.  Perhaps it may also be due to the declining discipline that seems to be present.  Reading a book does take discipline and time - time that many people say they do not have.

Whatever the reason, it is a sad state of affairs.  This decline in literacy has an impact on a society and a culture.  When people do not exercise their intellect, or chose lower discipline ways to think about things around us, I think we decline as a civilization.

So, how many books have you read this past year?

Another Story from Larry

A couple blogs back, I posted a blog of a story sent to me by my friend Larry Tummino, who is a long time disability advocate with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) in Massachusetts.  In his years advocating for people with disabilities he has chronicled these experiences in a book and I wanted to post another of his stories, with his permission, of course.

The Book Club

At a recent conference on Shared Living there was a panel consisting of caregivers, agency staff and individuals being supported who shared their stories about how people came to live together and what life has been like for all involved.  A women named Joan raised her had and shared the following:

I am involved in a book club that meets regularly at the library.  My daughter who also lives with me will stay home with Mary so I can attend.  Mary is in her seventies and is deaf and blind.  One day my daughter wasn't able to do that for me.  I asked Mary (using hand signing) if she would like to come to the book club with me.  Mary quickly asked, "do they have anything to eat?"  I said, "we always have cookies and coffee" to which she quickly replied, "I want to go."  So off we went.  Mary sat next to me and munched away but also occasionally signing with me to find out what people were saying about the book.

When we got home my daughter was back and Mary could not wait to tell her about the book club.  She said (hand signing) "there was a story about a woman who had left home at a young age and did not return until her father was dying."  She went on to say it was just like her - she left home and went to a school (Ferndale Institution) and did not see her father until he was almost dead.

Now Mary goes to book club with Joan all of the time.  And other people in the group are asking how hand signing works........

Social Academics

One of the unique aspects of our agency, CLASS is that along with the direct supports we offer to folks with disabilities in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), we have also started to focus on community based research.  This is in an effort to gather more empirical evidence related to social capital, community engagement and the inclusion of people with disabilities in everyday life.

This research effort has produced some important data and just this past Nov (2016) we had an important article published in the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies that showed some stark disparities in community engagement realities.  You can track this article by its title, "Someone to Love, Somewhere to Live, Something to Do."

Just recently, however, I came across a report we filed in 2009 that summarized a project we did back then we called the "TEACHER Program."  TEACHER was an acronym for "Training, Empowerment, Access to information, Consultation, Help, Experience, and Resources" and was a project CLASS conducted with the Pittsburgh City Schools and with it we introduced the concept of "Social Academics," which refers to a teaching model that promotes classrooms as communities.  With it we introduced multiple "classroom community building strategies" (CCBS).  We framed social academics as student-centered and capitalize on each student's strengths and stratagize any necessary adaptations for his/her overall success in both academics and socialization.

During the 2008-2009 school year, CLASS staff worked in 4 general education classrooms in the Pittsburgh City Schools.  In this effort we worked with 76 students, 18 who had an IEP, along with 10 teachers.  We established 4 classroom teams to promote collaboration in planning, and here are some of the things we found:

*  100% of teachers found the program helpful to encourage full participation of students

*  75% of teachers stated that their students better understood the concept of community.

*  100% of teachers reported that the program enhanced their students ability to cooperate

*  75% of teachers reported that the program was effective in helping students with IEP"s in building peer relationships

*  75% of teachers reported that participating in this program changed their approach to teaching.

These results are encouraging in the inclusion effort.  We know that relationships for children with disabilities in school with able-bodied peers is the secret to an inclusive community down the road.  Still there is more we need to learn, try, and do in this effort.  Having children with and without disabilities build social capital is the key variable that will change the world.

Think about it - social academics has probably been the secret to your success.  Certainly academic topics have their place, but the real variable to life success is our learning to get along with other diverse people.


Dialogue on Social Capital - the Take-a-ways

I have had the pleasure of working with disability advocates recently in Lancaster PA to explore the aspects of social capital.  In my first visit we did an overview of social capital, what it is, and why it is important to all of us.  This session summarized the literature on social capital, explored benchmarks of community engagement, and the fact that people with disabilities have marginally less social capital.

I recently returned to Lancaster for a second round and to dig deeper on this concept and to explore ways and means we can assist people find more opportunities for building social capital.  We had a more focused discussion and used a "positive deviance" analysis to pull out some of the variables and realities tied to people who are successful in relationships to see what might be common.  It was a lively discussion.

At the end of the session I asked these folks if they could summarize our conversation in one word what would it be.  Here is what they said:

Inclusion,  Relationships,  Special sauce,  Investing,  Empowerment,  Regularity,  Open-minded,  Person-Focused,  Persistent,  Perseverant,  Similarity

What is one word you would use to summarize your relationships/friendships?




The Basics of Relationships

I just finished my summer course at Pitt on Human Relations.  This class, which I have been teaching for the past 15 years, is focused on the importance of human relationships and how we can work to build better connections with people in our lives.

For this class I use Stephen Covey's book, "The 8th Habit," which explores relationships from a number of angles.  One of the perspectives that Covey writes about is the notion of "Deposits and Withdrawals" with the connections we have.  He shares that relationships are strengthened by deposits, and weakened by withdrawals, much like our bank accounts.  This perspective sharpens the understanding of relationships.

Think about it....when you do something extra, or follow-up on a promise you are depositing in to that friendship.  Conversely, when you break a promise, or put out demands, you are actually making a withdrawal in that connection.  When the withdrawals supersede the deposits, the relationship is put at risk.

So where are you on this issue.  Are you assuring that your relationships have more deposits than withdrawals.  If not, you have some important social capital work to do!

The Impact We Make

I was recently in Massachusetts to speak at a state-wide Family Support Conference on social capital and the impact that relationships have.  While there, I reconnected with my friend, Larry Tummino from the Department of Developmental Services.  Larry has been in the field for many years and well understands how critical relationships are in life.  After my visit, Larry sent me the following reflection he got from his wife, a retired Unitarian Minister.  Read it and think.

The Unseen Power of Presence

He volunteered with a dying patient, expecting to go through the five stages of grief at the first meeting.  Instead she talked about hooking rugs: the needle, the thread, the cloth, the rhythmic movement of the hands.

He tried other matters in conversation - she talked of hooking rugs.

On the next visit she spoke of the intricacies and hardships of ice-fishing that her husband had done before his death.

Week after week, hooking rugs and ice-fishing.

Angered, he said to friends, "I can't go on with this interminable hooking rugs and ice-fishing."

One day as they sat in the nursing home cafeteria, she going on, he bored and vexed with hooking rugs and ice-fishing, the room went silent, air turned a luminous shade of green, hooking rugs and ice-fishing stopped.

She leaned over and said, "I could not have done this without you," then on again with hooking rugs and ice-fishing.

Soon after she died.  At the funeral relatives said to him, "Thank you, all she ever spoke about was you."

Reflections on Human Relations

This summer semester I am teaching a course at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehab Sciences, titled, "Human Relations in the Health Care Environment."  It is a course I have taught for the past 15 years and each summer I have some 30 young Juniors and Seniors in my class.

When I first started teaching this class I tried to focus in on health care relationships, but it soon dawned on me that human relationships are just that - human relationships.  It doesn't matter, really, where you find yourself with others, how you build, maintain or nurture important relationships follow a similar path.  So I have framed the course in a more generic way, looking at values, aspects, and strategies that might be employed in any/all of our relationships.

For this class I use a book written by Steven Covey titled, "The 8th Habit".  You are probably familiar with Steven Covey and his "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."  This book was a monster best seller in the early 90's and still registers as one of the most popular books ever written in the past 50 years.  The book I use however, is a follow-up book where Covey added one more habit to his thesis.

The students like the book, not just because it is relevant and easy to digest, but it is also really inexpensive.  They can pick the book up at Amazon, or any other on-line bookstore for a couple bucks.  As a parent, who helped buy college text books for 3 children, I am happy that we can use such a relevant resource for such a low cost.

One of the first assignments I give the students is to have them write their own eulogy.  As you might imagine, their reaction is usually one of surprise and concern.  They think it is morbid and can't see the relevance.  But I clarify that I want them to think about their life, and surmise they have lived a long time, and when they die, their best friend will do the eulogy - what will they say.

In a way, this exercise really summarizes human relations.  The students write about things that you might if you were doing your own eulogy.  They talk about people they have relationships with, and what makes these relationships special.

So what about you - what would you say in your own eulogy!  If you focus on this legacy, and then act on it, you will surely enhance the connections you have.

Lessons From the Male Solarium

Along with my work with CLASS, I have been a long time board member of SWPPA (Southwestern PA Partnership on Aging), a nonprofit, advocacy group focused on aging and disability issues.  This work with SWPPA takes me back to my roots, where my first job in human services, way back in 1970, was at Kane Hospital in Pittsburgh.  When I first started at Kane, there were some 2,000 residents, mostly elders, is a large, gothic facility in the south hills. of Pittsburgh.

Working at Kane Hospital was a powerful experience for me for a number of reasons.  One was that it introduced me to the negative effects of institutionalization.  At Kane, I saw seemingly warm and compassionate professionals treat residents as objects or commodities.  These staff were not malicious, but there is something about institutionalization that can turn a warm heart, cold.

My first assignment was in an area of Kane, called the "male solarium."  This was a long, narrow wing of the hospital that housed over 500 patients.  Across from the male solarium, through a courtyard, was the female solarium exactly the same.  My job was as the male solarium social worker, and to cater to the residents needs, working with them individually and their families.  The average age of my 500 clients was 83.

As I wandered back and forth in this male solarium, for the 3 years I worked there, I can still hear the pleas of the residents.  They all wanted to go home and be with people they knew or loved rather than to stay in this facility.  I reacted to these pleas with countless phone calls to families, most who just did not have the capacity to care for their relative.  Certainly some situations were medically complex and the families were just not equipped - but these were exceptions.  Most of the rejections I heard were that the family had to work, and did not have the time, space, or wherewithal.

The other lesson from the male solarium introduced me to the wisdom and amazing experiences these folks had in their lives.  I would have individual conversations as well as group activities that would just amaze me.  I came to wonder who was helping whom.  It also saddened me in that this wisdom and life experience I was privileged to experience was locked inside the walls of that solarium

Today, some 48 years later, I continue to advocate for all people who are isolated, devalued, or institutionalized.  But these experiences, honed in the male solarium, were life-shaping for me.  In a personal way I learned that the more these folks are liberated to be a part of our communities, and to have opportunities to build relationships, the better we will become as a culture.


The Subtle Aspects of Friendship

As I share issues related to social capital with colleagues, the conversation usually starts with the notion of the importance of relationships in our lives.  We know that the more connections we have the better the life outcomes.  There is so much evidence of these realities that there is really no debate.  Relationships are tied to better health, more happiness, greater life accomplishments, and even longer life expectancy.

Then the explorations quickly shifts to the struggles of building social capital for some groups of people who are at social risk. We know that some people have a more difficult time finding, building, or fitting in with possible friends.  These folks then are at serious risk of social isolation, which has huge negative effects in people's lives.  In fact, we know today that as many people die in the United States from social isolation as from all smoke related diseases and conditions, annually.

The natural next step in the process then is to look at ways and means that presently isolated people might be able to build more social capital.  In this process, my colleagues and I have attempted to identify the important steps and stages.  These include identifying the interests people have, then to explore the general community for matching groups.  Next we want to identify the cultural expectations of these groups; and finally to find a "gatekeeper;" an indigenous member who is valued by others in the group to do some introductions.

All of this is well and good, yet there are friendship subtleties that are much harder to articulate and identify, that must be considered.  These are those softer behaviors that align people to us; they include things like how we greet people, the spacing with others, the nature of the conversation, what we talk about, questions we might ask, things related to the topic, and things related to life.

Just think about those subtle social issues that annoy you with some of the people you relate to in social gathering points of your life.  With these realities, most of us have learned through experience.  Very rarely do people teach us these things, or that we attend a class that might review the "dos" and "don'ts" in social relationship.

Yet, these subtle aspects in socializing might be the key to friendship building.  So, keep an eye on this blog as we explore more of these things down the road.  More, if you have some thoughts on how these softer elements of relationships can be enhanced, feel free to share them here.  Your ideas might be the key to helping folks build better social capital experiences.