In Friends Homes

In looking at the impact of social capital, sociologists have turned to a number of indicators that demonstrate a deeper connection with people.  Of course, one area looks at activity patterns, frequency of attendance, and with whom you engage at these activities.  When we participate with friends in various community venues these relationships become stronger. 

Another indicator, however, that may even be deeper than outside activities, relates to folks homes that you have visited.  That is, when we enter someone’s home we move into space that is intimate to them.  It is space that they have set up that is specific to them and their lifestyles.  Having you join them is a more trusted gesture, one that is more intimate. 

Beyond this is when you invite people into your home, for whatever reason.  This, in a way, is a vulnerable act that opens you up to their assessment of you and your lifestyle.   There is a trust in this effort that signals a deeper connection with this person.

So think now about those friends (or neighbors) homes you have been in, or those friends who you have had in your home.  Recognize that these people hold a deeper place in your social capital network and play a more important role in your life.  These relationships reap more benefits and meaning to us and are ones we should work to nurture and grow. 

Music and Moods

Years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, we were required to prepare a Masters thesis.  At the time I was actively playing music and having gigs with my group was one way of paying the bills.  Given my interest in music, I decided to do my Masters thesis on music and moods.

The entire field of music therapy was just initiating and as a musician this notion interested me.  So I decided to marry the important elements of mood and perception with the impactful notion of music.  As an organizer I knew that getting people excited and willing to engage in action required more than just the cause.  It seemed that if music could be introduced into the environment it could have a subliminal effect on people getting more excited about an issue.

of course, today we know this relationship and music is used in many ways to either excite, or calm people.  Think about political rallies that reve up the audience with pulsating or message songs to get people not just excited, but willing to do the important campaign work. 

On an individual basis, music has similar impact.  I know for me I can hear a song that brings me back another place in time, with the song linked to a happy or sad notion.  This is amazing and potent power.  In fact I know people who must have their playlist up and running before they can do their daily workout.  Sort of like the theme to “Rocky” as he runs up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps.  Even Christmas music can put people into certain moods.

Music is multidimensional and has powerful effect.  All of our lives are better for it. 

 

The Sounds of Community

Everyone is aware of the horrible fires that travel decimated parts of California these past few weeks.  Out of control, they have ravaged the countryside and literally destroyed hundreds of homes and even entire cities and communities.  This has been a terrible disaster.

Recently in a news story the reporter said that the sounds of community had been silenced in many places in California. This phrase, “the sounds of community” got me to reflect on this very issue.  What are the sounds of community that surround most of our lives, that we often take for granted?

To me the sounds of community are: 

* Children’s laughter  

* The honking of horns from automobiles

* The conversation of friends

* The rasping of the winds

* The sounds of music drifting in the streets

* Church bells that may announce the hour change

* The echos of faint hellos or goodbyes

* The rumble of a motorcycle or truck

Community is one of those things in our lives that is simple, yet complex.  It is not something we often reflect on, but when we awaken to its impact, it becomes something that we can hardly live without.  We take the importance of community for granted and can become dulled to its critical impact it plays in our lives - until it might be lost. 

So take some time now to listen to the sounds of your community and work to preserve it.  Wadsworth once said, “Without friendship life can be a wilderness.”  He could have easily substituted or incorporated the word “community” into this quote. 

Lets all work to build community! 

IN Podcast

The Interdependence Network, was founded about 10 years ago by folks interested in macro/community change and over the years has grown into an international coalition.  It is comprised of professionals, self advocates and family members who long for a community where each belongs.  The group has hosted symposia, meetings, trainings, and resources all devoted to community change.

Recently, I am happy to report to you that the IN has now launched our podcast series, “Call Me Al,” and offers 30 minute interviews and/or discussions on important community ideas or experiences that might be helpful to you in the work you do in your own community.   

The podcasts are available on the IN website, www.buildingsocialcapital.org, or at iTunes by searching “Call Me Al.”  Hope you have a chance to check us out.  Know too, if you have an idea or recommendation for an interview let us know. 

Re-wired

I was at a meeting the other day with some colleagues who run some major nonprofit human service agencies in the Western PA area. It is a group that meets each month for mutual support and to join hands to address common challenges.

We start each of our meetings with personal updates on what is new at our agencies and the colleagues can weigh in with thoughts or recommendations. When it came my turn for the update, I focused on the search process CLASS is taking to find the next CEO to step in when I retire from my administrative roles. After 45 years at CLASS, 27 as CEO, it is time to move on to new things.

When I finished my update one of my colleagues said it is not about being “retired,” but to become “rewired.” After thinking about it my colleague is right. As many of us “baby boomers” begin to step aside, many of us do not plan to check out. Given our experiences, backgrounds, and wisdom, the next step really is a rewiring - a chance to do more of what we feel destined to do.

Certainly for many of us who have been dedicated to our organizations and especially their causes, it is hard to step away - but the notion of rewiring to find new, and innovative ways to impact our world, is there for the taking.

I can’t wait for this next phase of my life!

Loneliness Kills

Commentators in our society, and around the world, are now awakening to an emerging issue that is more lethal than cancer, or heart disease - it is social isolation and loneliness. The evidence and, in some cases actions, are beginning to not only identify the issues, but recommend actions or solutions to address this specter.

Research and studies continue to mount and are compelling enough to promote actions. Consider the following issues:

  • Loneliness and emotional rejection affect the brain and body in measurable and alarming ways promoting stress and lowering immunity levels.

  • One lonely day extracts the same toll as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.

  • Emotional rejection causes stress affecting health, producing more illness and heart attacks.

  • The UK has designated a Minister to address Loneliness, reporting to the Prime Minister on ways and means to lessen loneliness in their country.

  • Positive relationships (the opposite of loneliness) is right behind genetics in predicting positive health and advanced longevity.

  • Men are at greater risk to be lonely - especially elderly men.

  • The number one public health crisis is not cancer, obesity, or heart disease - it's loneliness.

  • As many people in North America die from loneliness as from all smoke related diseases annually.

  • Cigna Insurance company conducted a national study with over 20,000 Americans looking at loneliness and discovered that loneliness has increased in all major age cohorts, but the highest level was found to be the youngest respondents.

  • Smart phones were designed to connect us, but the reality is that they have isolated us more than ever.

  • In the US, the life expectancy levels have dropped for a third consecutive year.

We need to ponder these trends. We need to not only recognize these issues but begin to find ways and means to address this specter. Our lives virtually depend upon it.

The Key to The City

Each year, our organization, CLASS, hosts a “Community Hero Banquet” which is designed to celebrate folks who are building inclusive opportunities in our town of Pittsburgh.  The event is always an exciting evening where we highlight these amazing people and then give them an award.

This year’s event was wonderful with some unique folks getting the award.  As a surprise to me, however, my colleagues at CLASS were able to convince the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Paduto, to do a special award for me, given my upcoming retirement from CLASS.  Now Mayor Paduto and I are old friends, who have been working together for years, going back to his days as a legislative assistant to City Council in the early 80’s. When he then ran for a city council seat, it was in the district that directly represented our agency center.  Bill won that election and in his time as a Councilman, we collaborated on many important initiatives designed to make our city more inclusive and welcoming to people with disabilities.  He has been an amazing advocate for our city, and now, as Mayor, he continues to promote the elements of inclusivity for Pittsburgh.

At our dinner this year, he made a surprise visit and read a wonderful proclamation that singled me out and was very touching.  Over my 45 years at CLASS I have heard politicians give proclamations to deserving community members and was touched to be on the receiving side of this effort.

What bowled me over however, was that after he read the proclamation he paused, and reached for a large box with the seal of the City of Pittsburgh.  He opened the box and then gave me the highest civilian honor that one can get in our community - the Key to Pittsburgh.  He went on to say that I was only the 5th recipient of this most high honor in the history of our city.

I was literally speechless.  People who know me know that I am not one for awards or accolades.  I am a simple man trying to do what is right - to use whatever gifts I have been given to build something better for all of us.  And not just me - but trying to collect all of us to do whatever part we can in making for a better world.

I am humbled and honored to receive the key to our city, but more, to have aligned with forward thinking people who see the wisdom of a better commonwealth - one where the impact to one of us, is tied to the impact of all of us.

Lets continue, all of us, to change the world.

Family Engagement Patterns

One of the exciting aspects of my work at CLASS is to partner with organizations in trying to learn more about ways to help individuals or families find greater success in community.  One such partnership has been with Chatham University in Pittsburgh.  Over the past couple years Chatham and CLASS have been working on a Family Engagement Study where we compared and contrasted the engagement patterns of 50 families, 25 who have children with disability labels and 25 who have children without disabilities.  This study was further enhanced by including our partner agency in Brisbane Australia, Mamre Association, who mirrored this effort with 50 Australian families.

We are writing up our results now, but in both the US and Australia, we found that families who have children with disabilities engage less.  They don’t go out as often, and have less community exposure.  In a way this did not surprise us, but what did was the qualitative follow-up we did with the families who have children with disabilities.  We found 3 key reasons why these families engage less.

One reason was economics.  Quite simply, families with children who have disabilities have less discretionary money, and can’t afford to engage as much.  This is consistent with other studies that show clearly that disability is costly.  Medical appointments, equipment, therapies and the like take their economic toll.

The second reason reported was around logistics.  Figuring out all the details and planning for the things that might happen related to the disability are sometimes overwhelming.  I understand this in a personal way when my family were planning an outing with my dad, who had Parkinson’s.  We had to consider everything that might unfold and sometimes this would be so overwhelming that we would decide to just stay home.

Last, we discovered that families felt strong social stigma from others that they just didn’t feel welcome in the venue.  They reported eye rolls, people moving away, and other social indicators that they weren’t welcome.

In a way, recognizing these variables has a positive residue.  That is, we now have a target to go after in an effort to help all families engage.  The notions of economics, logistics, and social stigma are items we can develop some social approaches to change, though all 3 of these issues will not be easy to fully resolve. 

Still, knowing the challenge is the first step in creating a better world, one where all families might feel welcomed.  So what can you do in helping to make this happen?

Pro Social Behaviors

Sociologists who explore the temperament of culture often talk about the importance of pro-social behaviors. These are things like tolerance, respect, compassion, kindness and such - all things we crave as people and members of community. These are the things that make us feel good and included. They make us, and community, better places to live, work, and play. In fact, we all want to be a part of communities that manifest these pro-social behaviors.

We also know that these behaviors are associated with the social capital (relationships) in our life that spill into our communities. That is, we are more tolerant, respectful, kind, and compassionate with people we know, or have relationships with in our life. Often we treat these people better than we do strangers.

These behaviors are not only important to the primary health and impact of a community, but they have a secondary impact as well. That is, not only do we feel better when we are treated this way, but the secondary effect is that people observe these behaviors and will tend to mimic them. We know that positive behaviors beget positive responses in others - people who observe these positive gestures will tend to act this way as well. If you do something kind and respectful with another person, people who observe this will tend to be influenced to follow suit.

We have all seen commercials or advertising that show a person observing a kind act, and then acting kind with the next person they encounter. Sociological research has corroborated this phenomena again and again.

So what is the lesson here? One is that we should be conscious of how we treat others and strive to be more positive and pro-social in our efforts. Further, we should look to build more relationships with people to assure these behaviors continue. Vibrant and inclusive communities depend on it.

Initial Social Capital

In the work we do at CLASS and with the Interdependence Network, we are often talking about the importance of social capital in our lives and how we can help people build more relationships. Of course, this is not an easy task as often perceptions and stereotypes can challenge the process.

While I was musing on this issue I took time to pause and participate in my grandson’s first birthday party a few weeks back. Little Connor was the center of attention at the party, sticking his hands into his cake, enjoying the balloons, and flashing that dazzling smile. And surrounding him were all of our families and friends of the families and over the 2 day celebration there were close to 50 folks who participated.

As I watched all of this it dawned on me, that Connor is well on his way in building social capital. Given the size of our families, and the large range of friends that his mom and dad have, offer him a solid launching pad to relationships. And as he ages, this network will only get bigger as new friendships are added - some developed by his family, and others he begins to develop through the socialization opportunities that will come down the pike.

Further, as he grows and comes to observe his parents and family engaging, he should begin to develop solid relationship building skills that will serve him well over his years. These are all good trends that should make for a strong and successful life for Connor.

From this observation then I noted, no one starts at ground zero in building social capital. We all launch off the backs of our families and the friends they already have amassed. These initial aspects of social capital, the ones we inherit from our family and their friends are the early building blocks for a better life.

Social Infrastructure

I conducted a workshop recently in Central Pennsylvania, and the group that invited me held the gathering at the local community library. Using community gathering places, certainly when we are exploring community engagement principles, are real testimonies to the critical nature of community. Often, when we look at the importance of social capital as a key ingredient for a more vital community, it pushes us to understand the principles of social infrastructure.

Community builders know that having viable places in our communities for people to gather is an important link to building social capital. Some sociologists maintain that the more places that offer regularity of exchange are vital to the strength of a community. These include not just meeting spaces, like the library we did our session in, but informal spaces as well that are open, accessible, and welcoming to everyone.

So what about your community? Are there adequate and inclusive meeting spaces for people to gather. Are there “great, good, places” where people can meet up, and come to know one another. If you were hosting a group of people, where might you meet? We are seeing commercial settings understand this need, such as Starbucks, or Panera’s, that gladly make their space available for meetings and gatherings?

Our communities are only as good as their social infrastructure!

Sustaining a New Idea

I speak at a lot of conferences during the year, often on ideas related to macro change and social capital.  Usually when I finish up, people will approach with questions or want to dig deeper on concepts and good conversations ensue.  They are excited about adopting these principles when they go back to their agencies, yet, to the best of my knowledge, few people are able to apply the ideas to their work.  Recently I have been pondering on this dilemma.

I know that through translational theory research, it takes a long time for a new idea to become mainstreamed.  Some estimates suggest upward to 17-20 years.  Sustaining a new idea is challenging.

I know this as it has happened to me, especially earlier in my career.  I would go to a conference, get really fired up at something I heard or saw, came back hell-bent on applying the new idea or thought, only to find myself unable to realize the innovation.  I am sure this has happened to you as well.

So what can we do about this?  How can we sustain a new idea and see it to fruition?  This is not an easy path, but here are some of the things I am doing more of and finding that they help.  First, make sure you take good notes on what you are hearing; write down references and leads that are associated with the new idea.  Next, talk about the ideas with others; start this right at the conference or gathering while the idea is fresh.  Get others opinions, even look for some leads that can help you dig deeper.  When you get back, start doing research on the idea; call people, buy books, google leads, follow recommended TED talks.  Then keep the conversation going.  Report your idea at your staff meeting, seek out your supervisor or director and tell them about your thoughts on application.  Keep digging and thinking and processing.

Sustainability is challenging - and it is easy to go back to a default.  Passion is the fuel for change, and keeping passionate requires fuel.  Keep looking for new fuel to help you realize your idea by talking, researching, and exploring.

For those of you who have been successful in sustaining a new idea, what recommendations do you have for us?  What has experience taught you?

 

Interdependence Network Podcast Update

Most of you who know my work know that some colleagues and I founded an online community of practice, the Interdependence Network (www.buildingsocialcapital.org), in 2006.  This coalition of advocates consist of parents, families, professionals, folks with disabilities, and other interested advocates from all over the world.

Over the years the network has done a number of things - we have sponsored 7 symposia conducted in the USA, Canada, and Australia where we have explored the advocacy shift from micro to macro change approaches, hosting over 800 advocates in the process.  The network also has conducted research when we surveyed over 220 folks with disabilities in 7 unique research sites in 2013 using the "Social Capital Benchmarking Survey" developed by Robert Putnam at Harvard University.  This research was reported in the article, "Somewhere to Live, Something to Do, Someone to Love," published in the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies (Dec, 2016).

Our newest venture now is the launching of the podcast, "You Can Call Me Al," which features timely interviews and conversations related to social justice and full community inclusion around the world.  Just this past week we have recorded 3 new episodes which will be airing soon.

We are excited about these podcasts as they represent an easy way to listen, learn, and broaden our understanding of social capital, social justice, and community engagement.  To this end we invite you to check out our podcast at the Interdependence Network website, www.buildingsocialcapital.org.  Feel free to share this resource with your networks.  Further, if you have any recommendations for topics or guests, give us a yell.  We are all students of inclusion and can all benefit from each others ideas or thoughts.

Loneliness and Social Isolation

Sociologists and public health officials are learning more and more about the ill-effects of social isolation.  In fact, we know today, that social isolation is a significant public health risk and that as many people die from isolation each year as from all smoke related diseases and illnesses.  Officials have recently said that isolation is as bad for us as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day!

In this same vein, we continue to look at and study loneliness as a by-product of isolation; and though they are related, isolation and loneliness do stand alone.  That is, one can be lonely in the midst of many connections.  Our recent sensitivity to suicide situations seem to validate this point.  Certainly many people who take their own life are not necessarily isolated, but are clearly alone with their demons.  Equally, you can be in an isolated situation, yet not feel lonely.  This is an experience I deal with every time I travel by myself.

These notions of social isolation and loneliness are important ones that we need to wrestle with as a community.  Clearly they (isolation and loneliness) have a toxic effect on us, and anyone reading this post has had some experience with them.  Further, there are people in all of our communities who are at greater risks of their throes. 

The antidote to loneliness and isolation is to build more social capital - easier said than done.  Still, if we, as a Community, want to lessen the effects of these experiences we have to better understand social capital.  How do people build friendships?  What are the steps and stages that are part of the social capital process? 

We know more and more about the process, and I have written extensively on it over the years, but for this blog there are 2 key points to think about.  One is that any relationship is a 2 way street - it takes actions on both sides.  The other is that all relationships start with some elements of similarity.  Think about it, every relationship in your life today can be tracked back to some component of similarity - it is the essence of social capital. 

So, as you reflect on this, consider doing your part.  If you are one of the lucky ones who has abundant social capital, recognize this - and then do your part to reach out, especially to those who hunger for connection.  You never know - your behavior might just save someone’s life!

Pugnaciousness - What Does It Mean to You

The notion of social capital first appeared in the literature in 1914 and since that time has been explored by academics as to its impact and benefit to society.  Most of the early studies were buried in the sociological literature until the concept was popularized by Harvard sociologist, Robert Putnam in the mid-90's.  In fact, Putnam's book, Bowling Alone, which came out in 2000, began to spread the concept of social capital into many fields.

In preparation for a presentation I was to do, I pulled out my copy of Bowling Alone and reread the book this past weekend.  In this work, Putnam looks at the civic significance of relationships and how building social capital makes our communities better.  The book is a good read, and its relevance still has impact to this day, some 18 years later.

In one section of his book, Putnam writes about how relationships help people resolve problems, and become more tolerant and willing to understand each other.  One issue that really stood out to me was the fact that social capital reduces "pugnaciousness."  I remember when I first read the book looking up the concept of "pugnaciousness."  I wanted to get a better sense of what he meant.

Pugnaciousness is defined as having a quarrelsome or combative nature - to want to fight with people; and I have to believe that it is on the rise in the United States.  From the President, who seemingly wants to fight with everyone, and has made bullying fashionable, to the guy on the street who is willing to pull a gun on the person who took the parking space he was waiting for, pugnaciousness seems to be commonplace.

In Bowling Alone, Putnam suggests that when people come to know each other, their pugnaciousness (at least between them) goes down.  But if people remain distant or anonymous from each other, it is easier for them to end up in a fight.

Now I am not sure how much social capital lessen pugnaciousness, or, for those folks who have a pugnacious nature, can be softened by a relationship, but I have to believe that it helps.  More, I am convinced that although pugnaciousness (due to the cultural acceptance of influential, mean-spirited people), is on the rise in our society, it can be lessened through the power of relationships.  In essence, the more you come to know someone, the harder it is to be mean to them.

So take a minute now, to reflect on pugnaciousness.  Be aware of its toxic, spreadable nature, and do your best to not be drawn into the fray.  My mother used to tell me that fighting doesn't really solve problems.  The older I become, the smarter my parents seem to be.

What Makes Resilience

I had coffee the other morning with an old friend, a fellow disability advocate who has worked in the mental health field for years as a psychiatrist.  We were talking about how challenging it is to promote macro change, and especially attitudinal change in the greater community towards disability.  He then asked me if I was familiar with the "Resilient Cities" movement and if we want to make more of a macro impact, we should find ways to align here.

The Resilient Cities movement was initiated in 2013 by the Rockefeller Foundation with a worldwide goal of aligning forward thinking cities to broaden their agenda.  Over the next 4 years they invited cities to apply for funding to initiate an agenda for inclusion, openness, and acceptance.  In that time, 100 cities around the world were selected and began to meet, share, and compare ways to be more robust and inclusive.  Check out their website to see if your city is included - www.100resilientcities.org.  

Of these 100, 22 are from the USA and my hometown of Pittsburgh is in the mix (along with Atlanta, Boston, Berkeley, Boulder, Chicago, Dallas, El Paso, Miami, Honolulu, LA, Louisville, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, NYC, Norfolk, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Tulsa, Washington, DC).  This means that these cities have key officials identified to promote resiliency in that community.

My friend Ken told me that many of these cities are focusing attention on infrastructure issues that look at things like water, roads, bridges, architecture, sewers, and the like.  Other cities, most notably Glasgow Scotland, has focused attention on people and relationships.  These cities feel that resilience is really about people and how they relate to address the needs of people in the city.

This relationship oriented agenda in resilience continues to show the power of social capital and how, at the end of the day, inclusion of any devalued or marginalized group, comes down to relationships between and among people.  In my work as an advocate, it suggests that the sooner we can promote relationships for folks we support, the sooner we can be assured that disability issues become a part of resiliency.

So if you are an advocate in any one of the aforementioned cities (for myCanadian and Australian friends, know that Toronto and Sydney are on the list), dig deeper and see how you, and the folks you serve, can become part of the resiliency conversation.  This is the stuff that will change a community.

Why Do You Stay At Your Job

At our agency, CLASS (www.classcommunity.org), we are always looking for ways to recruit people to work for us.  Our turnover rate for our Direct Support Professionals is consistent with human service industry standards, hovering at about 35%.  We always have openings for positions that provide direct support to the folks with disabilities that we serve, and struggle to fill them.

That is why this morning, while driving to work, I took interest in an NPR report regarding a study that looked closely at turnover and why people leave jobs, or are attracted to new ones.  Of course the conventional wisdom regarding turnover is always tied to salaries.  If you had to guess, it is a good bet to put money on salary as the key issue.

But this study found that money (salary) was not the primary factor in job turnover/acquisition.  Certainly money and salary are important and high on the list, but for the first time the primary factor rated was "culture and purpose" in a job.

Now organizational theorists have always identified culture and purpose as important, but never as important as salary in what attracts and keeps people in jobs.  They have felt that people will change jobs for even small increase and this is still probably true for many people.

Still, this notion of culture and purpose suggest that organizations, and especially nonprofit organizations, who do not have access to profit lines that can be applied to salaries, might do well to examine their cultures.  Certainly nonprofit organizations have important purposes to play in their communities, but the notion of culture offers some room to improve the turnover rate.

I know for me at CLASS, that the nurturing of our culture is job number one.  People want to work in an environment where they are valued and respected.  That they are treated with dignity and honor and that equality becomes an important variable.  Of course we need to raise salaries as much as we can, but compared to profit making firms, we are often limited by factors we can not control.

So my message with this blog is two-fold.  One is to prompt you to recommend CLASS to anyone you know who might be interested in direct support work.  At CLASS they can find purpose, and a culture that will care for them.  The other is for you to reflect on what keeps you at your current job.  Building a better culture is everyone's business. 

Time Taken To Build Relationships

So I was flying to Baltimore to participate in the DE Partners in Policymaking program and was fingering through the in-flight magazine.  I came upon an article titled; "It takes 50 hours to make a friend," and as I am always looking for information related to social capital, I read on.

It was a short teaser article summarizing an article by Dr. Jeffrey Hall that appeared in the "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships."  The short piece did not dive deeply into the article, but highlighted his key findings in looking at the time it takes to build a relationship.  Hall found that once you are acquainted with someone, it takes a good 50 hours to move that connection from acquaintance to "casual friend."  Then it takes an additional 90 hours to move from "casual friend" to "friend;" and finally a good 200+ hours to move from "friend" to "close friend."

Further, Hall found that the typical undergraduate student spends nearly a third of their waking hours with one close friend.  This nets to almost 6 hours/day invested in one close friend.

Now all of this is interesting to me as it suggests the importance of time in building meaningful friendships.  Of course we all know that time is critical, but for the advocate, helping people to build friendships we must understand the importance of regularity.  If we want to help people build social capital, they must make a regular commitment to be present with the folks they hope to befriend.

So instead of community outings, it would do us better to find places that meet on a regular basis and make sure that the person being supported can make the commitment to the group.  Then the real work begins, because connecting with others require that similarity emerges and that people can begin to share and compare that which they have in common.

Not fool proof, but building relationships takes time and we must be prepared to make the time if we want more friends.  So, the next time you are with your friends, think back to the time you have invested.  In these cases, time is more than money!

A Time to Scatter Stones; a Time to Gather Stones

I love the passage from Ecclesiastes 3, that was immortalized in song, “A Time for All Seasons.”  It juxtaposes important aspects in life and causes us to think about our own actions.

For me, I have been thinking for a while now about moving out of my current role at CLASS as CEO and on to other ventures.  To this end, I have decided to retire from my role as CEO effective later this fall and move into a "Special Advisory" role with our organization.  Now this is not an easy decision as I have been with CLASS since 1973, and have been the CEO since 1991.  This organization is part of my essence.

That is why I am happy to be moving into a supportive role; one that will allow me to take on special projects and offer a historical perspective as we march into the future.  Of course I will be doing this on a part-time basis as I want to have time to travel with Liz and my family and get in an occasional round of golf.

Still, there are other things I want to do.  Know that I plan to continue teaching, consulting, and speaking publicly about the importance of full and inclusive community, social capital, and cultural change.  There is still so much more for us to do, and as long as God shines on me I want to remain a player.  I also look forward to having more time to write.  I want to do a book about social capital in educational venues with my daughter, Gianna and her teaching colleague (and boyfriend) Marc; and continue to blog and offer short opinion pieces.

I also want to pay more attention to the Interdependence Network (www.buildingsocialcapital.org).  This international community of practice offers a framework for enhancing community and promoting macro change.  My colleagues Jeff Fromknecht, Jamie Curran, Patty Flaherty, Janet Williams, Joyce Steel, Rachel Drew, David Isitt, and others from around the world have helped to form a Template that can make a difference in our communities.  We need to move this along.

And of course, I want to spend more time with my grandson, Connor Allen (my son Dante and Heather's son), get to NYC to see my other son, Santino and Valentina as they continue to plan their wedding next year (in Mexico!), and spend winters with my daughter Gianna and Marc in Orlando.  Time is marching on, and I want to get in step.

So, for everything there is a season, and for me the time is now to step from my administrative role at CLASS, and make room for living.  I have loved every minute of my 45 years at CLASS, and it will always be another home for me; but there are other things that need attention, and I want to get at them.

Know that CLASS will begin to search for a new CEO, and I will be posting more information about this down the road.  In the meantime, I need to cut down some golf clubs - there is a future PGA player named Connor Condeluci, who is looking to learn the game, and Grampy is ready for the assignment!

Gatekeepers in Your Life

One key concept we use to help people understand the process of building more connections is to recognize the critical role of "gatekeepers" in our lives.  In more of an academic analysis the gatekeeper is someone already accepted in a community who offer their support, endorsement, or acceptance of the new-comer.  This juxtaposition between someone already valued and the new-comer creates a lift to this new person.  When people see, or hear someone they like or trust, endorse someone (or something) new, they are more prone to accept that new person (or thing) themselves.  It is sort of an endorsement and sociologists call this "social influence theory," and it is more powerful than you think.

What is even more powerful is that the endorsement of the gatekeeper has both an external as well as an internal impact.  That is, and as stated above, when people around the gatekeeper see their actions toward something they begin to become more accepting.  This is the external effect of social influence theory.  But more, there is an internal validation that the new-comer experiences that affects self-esteem, self-confidence, and feeling better about oneself.

In training's I do on this concept, I sometimes use an exercise that illustrates this internal impact.  After discussing the concept of the gatekeeper, I will ask people to take a minute and reflect on gatekeepers in their life. I ask them to write down their names and to jot down the experience they had with these gatekeepers.  Then I roam around the training room and ask volunteers to share a gatekeeper story.

Invariably, respondents offer these powerful, warm memories of these parents, teachers, coaches, relatives, ministers and the like, who were there for them, who propped them up, saw something in them that they couldn't see in themselves.  Powerful, loving and sometimes tearful reflections, that are incredibly validating.

So stop now, and think about the important gatekeepers who have impacted your life.  More, if you still have a relationship with this person stop now and reach out - call - go visit with this person - and tell them how much they influenced your life.

Never miss a moment to tell someone how important they are (or were) to you!