Social Capital: is the value that we derive from being members of a community. It is the network of favors that we get by virtue of having social relationships with people. People acquire this social capital by being a part of one or more social networks. A social network could be a club, a church, a group of friends or a workplace.
Gatekeeper: are the influential individuals within that social network who are willing and able to accept individuals into that network and help teach the rules.
How many of us met our significant other through a friend or a social network? How many of us got a job through a friend or social network?
Throughout our lives, the things that we do independently are often better described as interdependent. The buddy who helped you fix your car so you could make it to work on time the following day? The neighbor who watched your child so you could go to that interview? They did those important things for you because you are a part of a complex network of social capital. Did you really get or keep that job “all by yourself”?
The term social capital is very apt. In addition to improved mental and physical health, longer lives and improved communities, the things we get from these social relationships have an actual dollar value.
So how does that apply to The Arc? Social scientists have analyzed social networks and determined that the average person has 150 important relationships. When the same analysis is applied to people with disabilities, the number is more like 25.
This deficit has a huge impact on people’s economic condition, quality of life, and ability to deal with challenges.
In response, the Arc is creating a pilot program that we are calling “intentional inclusion”. This effort will connect marginalized individuals with people in the community who are in gatekeeper roles within their various social networks, i.e. the car club member, the church elders, the gardening guru. Through these connections, people will expand their social network, increase their social capital, share the benefits of community and improve the lives of everyone in those networks.
Robert F Kennedy once described the rights of the disabled to be the last frontier of the civil rights movement. Since then, we've recognized that every child has the right to a free and appropriate public education and we’ve made great progress in helping connect people with disabilities with employers. The last accomplishment in that last frontier is inclusion; getting people engaged with one another so we can all share the benefits of a community.
This project will start with twelve individuals in our county and will be chosen to represent a variety of backgrounds and ability. If you have anyone you'd like to suggest, please give us a call.
The goal is to connect people into the social networks that support us all.