We want to hear your social capital stories. We've posted the ones below from the upcoming BetterTogether book. Send us your stories and we will add them to this list.

“The stories in Better Together,” Putnam and Feldstein write, “show the positive effects of social capital, the ways that people in relationships can reach goals that would have been far beyond the grasp of individuals in isolation. At the same time, these people enjoy the intrinsic satisfaction of association,
of being part of a community.”

Better Together Stories

Valley Interfaith (Rio Grande Valley, Texas).

Branch Libraries (Chicago, Illinois).
The Shipyard Project (Portsmouth, New Hampshire).
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (Boston, Massachusetts).
The Tupelo Model (Tupelo, Mississippi)
Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, California).
Do Something (Waupun, Wisconsin).
Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (Cambridge, Massachusetts).
Experience Corps (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).
UPS: Diversity and Cohesion (Everywhere, USA).
Craigslist (San Francisco, California).
A Positive Epidemic of Civic Engagement (Portland, Oregon).



Valley Interfaith (Rio Grande Valley, Texas). Valley Interfaith is a decades-long community organizing effort that brought such basic services as electricity, roads, and health care to the mostly Spanish-speaking residents of one of the poorest regions in the United States. The special strength of Valley Interfaith — with members drawn from 45 churches and public school groups representing 60,000 families — is that the agenda for reform emerged from one-on-one conversations with the members, rather than being imposed from the top down. Through these thousands of conversations, individuals joined with one another, “making their private pain public” as one minister described the work. Organizers followed an “iron rule” of never doing anything for people that they can do for themselves, and worked constantly to develop new leaders. As a result, the power of personal relationships was translated into civic and political strength, often in coalition with similar networks throughout Texas.

[return to top of the page]

Branch Libraries (Chicago, Illinois). With the advent of the Internet, many people predicted that public libraries would die. But in Chicago, the libraries are thriving and expanding because they embody a new idea of how a library functions. No longer a passive repository of books, the new Chicago library is an active and responsive part of the community. It is also an agent of change that can bring together very different types of communities, from the wealthy Gold Coast to the impoverished, mostly African-American, Cabrini Green. As one librarian observed, “Like the Marines, we go in first” to help link and change neighborhoods.

[return to top of the page]

The Shipyard Project (Portsmouth, New Hampshire). The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has been building ships and submarines for more than two centuries, and employs a workforce of 3,000. Yet in recent years, many residents of the historic city of Portsmouth, just across the river from the shipyard, had come to see it as an odd and ugly contrast to their newly gentrified city. That gap in knowledge and sympathy led Chris Dwyer to conceive the idea of an arts project that would reveal and explain the shipyard to the city. The surprising result was a remarkable, two-year effort to create a democratic, participatory dance project — involving burly shipyard workers as well as dance professionals — which culminated in a week of performances that moved and transformed the entire community.

[return to top of the page]

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (Boston, Massachusetts). A deteriorating and crime-ridden wasteland in the early 1980s, the Dudley Street neighborhood has been saved by a civic association that knocked on every door, overcame ethnic differences, and now plays an ongoing role in the neighborhood. At countless community meetings, at multicultural festivals, and through side-by-side labor, organizers helped people in the neighborhood connect and reconnect. “Now,” says one resident, “most people know each other, and they talk to each other. And it feels more like a family than a neighborhood.”

[return to top of the page]

The Tupelo Model (Tupelo, Mississippi). In 1940, Lee County, in which Tupelo is located, was one of the poorest counties in America. After half a century of hard collective work, Lee County has been dramatically transformed, with a poverty rate half the national average. Tupelo is bustling and prosperous, and is regularly cited by economic development experts as one of the top success stories in the nation. Yet Tupelo’s turnaround had an unlikely beginning when a liberal newspaper editor named George McLean convinced conservative small-business owners to invest in a prize bull so that the very poor dairy farmers—who were their primary customers—could improve their herds, make more money, and support more business.

[return to top of the page]

Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, California). Saddleback is a highly successful evangelical Christian mega-church, with some 45,000 members and a sprawling complex of facilities on 74 acres of land. Yet it manages to turn its vast crowd of “seekers” into a genuine congregation, and then into committed, core members, by fostering real community through intentionally organizing congregants into hundreds of small groups. Another church in southern California, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, has built a large and diverse community of 3,500 members in a different way. While also using small groups to promote community, All Saints offers a blend of traditional Episcopalian ritual, social liberalism, and religious ambiguity, in contrast to Saddleback’s combination of innovative worship styles and religious certainty.

[return to top of the page]

Do Something (Waupun, Wisconsin). Do Something is a national organization established to encourage community activism and develop leadership skills among young people. Yet Do Something works by letting young people in local communities define their own action agendas and build the commitment to carry them out. In the small town of Waupun, a group of sixth-graders managed to convince local authorities to improve safety at a railroad crossing, learning valuable lessons in civic activism. Do Something’s national leadership also learned a lesson: they had to discard their initial strategy in order to tap into the natural social networks in schools, rather than make an expensive and ultimately futile attempt to create artificial ones.

[return to top of the page]

Harvard Clerical & Technical Workers Union (Cambridge, MA) Two unsuccessful efforts to unionize support staff at Harvard University showed the weaknesses in traditional union organizing strategies. Then, in 1985, a group of organizers led by Kris Rondeau chose a path that led to a new kind of union. Instead of leafleting, telling workers what they could get for them, and emphasizing grievances against Harvard, the organizers slowly built personal relationships with the employees, 85 percent of whom were women. They had multiple one-on-one conversations with them over coffee and lunch, during which the employees could talk about their work and their wishes and tell their personal stories. The organizers also had the explicit goal of deepening relationships between labor and management. They even had a singing group that sang union lyrics old stand-by tunes. This time, the union won. As one member put it, “An employer will never beat a union that has a singing group.”

[return to top of the page]

Experience Corps (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Every week at the racially integrated Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School in North Philadelphia, ten Experience Corps volunteers, mostly women, all retired, ranging in age from fifty-something to their seventies and eighties are helping to raise the ambitions and improve the skills of kids from impoverished backgrounds. Each volunteer (many from minority backgrounds themselves) commits fifteen hours a week to the school, tutoring four to six children three times a week. The program not only brings many different kinds of benefits to the students, it builds community among the volunteers and deploys them strategically in order to foster a sense of mission and magnify their individual impact.

[return to top of the page]

UPS: Diversity and Cohesion (Everywhere, USA). Forty years ago, UPS was overwhelmingly an organization of white males, many of them Irish Catholic and with a military background. Today, minorities hold 27 percent of managerial positions, women are 21 percent of the workforce, and DiversityInc.com ranked UPS third in its list of top ten companies for diversity in 2001. UPS is a very large, profitable firm in a highly competitive global industry – not an outpost of “boutique capitalism”— that succeeded by embracing change rather than resisting it. Central to UPS’ success has been the hardnosed business calculation by UPS management to invest in building its entire operation on cooperation, connections, and loyalty within its 370,000 member workforce.

[return to top of the page]

Craigslist (San Francisco, California). It remains an open question whether the Internet can build “virtual” communities that are truly comparable in impact and cohesion to physical, face-to-face communities. Craigslist, based in San Francisco, is one of the most successful online communities precisely because it has a very close, multilevel connection to the community in which it is located. Members not only peruse ads for jobs and apartments, but tell personal stories, offer emotional support, and suggest spur-of-the-moment meetings for coffee, concerts, and even doing laundry.

[return to top of the page]

A Positive Epidemic of Civic Engagement (Portland, Oregon). Over the past three decades, Portland has moved from an average level of civic participation to the one of the highest in America. What magic elixir boosted Portlanders’ civic engagement so astonishingly just as it was precipitously declining in most of the rest of the country? The authors trace how a core of committed activists from the 1960s helped create unusually responsive local and state governments, which in turn encouraged more activism and more government responsiveness in a “virtuous circle” of civic participation.

[return to top of the page]

Bettertogether.org is an initiative of the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America
at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
c/o The Saguaro Seminar, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617-617 495 1148 FAX: 617-495-1589

home | book | report | what you can do | Saguaro Seminar | Contact Us | Email us | Site Map

website design www.LouiseKennedyDesign.com an affiliate of WhiteDogDesign.com
ispserver hosting