don't bowl alone
Survey of Kalamazoo County's strengths
shows informal connections are strong
BY BARBARA WALTERS
As young wives, they
began gathering in each other's homes nearly 20 years
ago, sewing, laughing and occasionally crying together over coffee and
"A silly, really
cool group," is the way Anne Lipsey described it. She's
still a member of the group after 18 years.
That kind of informal
activity, or "schmoozing," is the type of interaction
Kalamazoo County residents do most - more than formal, organized
participation in church, civic or other organizations, according to a
released today by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
And while "schmoozing"
has its silly side - Lipsey's group once fashioned a
bridal bouquet out of french fries for laughs - its social bonds have
serious value in a community, say social scientists and others watching
for America's civic health.
is one of 13 categories used to measure the way people interact
in a nationwide survey of "social capital" released today.
The survey compares
Kalamazoo County and 39 other communities and was
developed primarily by the author of "Bowling Alone," Harvard
touched a national nerve by detailing how the drastic drop
in Americans' participation in bowling leagues, service organizations,
neighborhood picnics and other social interactions has created deep fissures
in the nation's well-being, from education, health and happiness to safety
and economic security.
The "Social Capital
Benchmark Survey," created in response to that book, was
sponsored by community foundations across America.
A score of 100 is
expected for communities of similar size and demographics
in the survey. A score above 100 indicates more "social capital"
pretty well across the board," said David Hartmann of the
Kercher Center for Social Research at Western Michigan University. He
Craig Tollini of Kercher led the telephone survey of 500 local residents.
After its high "schmoozing"
score of 132, Kalamazoo County's next highest
score came in the diversity-of-friendships category, which measures how
people make friends across racial, economic, gender and other lines. Here,
the county scored 111.
score for residents' membership in formal organizations
was also above average, at 109. The survey found good participation in
groups ranging from sport leagues to service, art and nature groups.
Scores above 100 show
available "social capital" that can be tapped,
now is, will that social capital we have in Kalamazoo County
be activated for the community good?" he said. "Will it be translated
With those questions
in mind, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has planned
forums later this spring using survey data, according to Gloria Royal
The Foundation also
is accepting grant proposals that focus on getting
people involved in decision making processes, promoting the idea of helping
neighbors and providing youth with leadership opportunities.
this data as the beginning of the discussion, not the
conclusion," Hartmann said.
lowest score - 89 - was in conventional politics. Many
communities across the country scored low in that category, but the county's
score "indicates a need to investigate more fully if individuals
are actively engaged in local, state and national political processes,"
At the other end of
the spectrum, Kalamazoo County's "schmoozing index"
shows its fondness for informal connections, such as going out with friends
after work or having a mother-in-law over for Sunday dinner.
Those kinds of bonds
may not sound valuable, but they are, Hartmann said.
high in informal associations have those links available for
other kinds of work," he said. "These communities are well-poised
to take on
issues when they arise.
"It's not a 'good
old boys' network," he added. "These are connections which
reach across a lot of social lines."
For instance, when
Lipsey badly needed a volunteer to help out temporarily
at Loaves and Fishes, a food source for low-income people, she turned
"schmooze" group. One of the members agreed to help and became
staff member for the organization.
That's the kind of
powerful social chain reaction Putnam described when he
spoke in Kalamazoo last year at a community meeting sponsored by the
Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
Formal or informal,
social bonds are the most powerful predictor of life
satisfaction and community vitality, according to Putnam. In terms of
personal well-being, attending a club meeting regularly is equivalent
doubling your income, he said.
is also a strong predictor of personal health," according to
"If you smoke
and belong to no groups, it's a close call as to which is the
riskier," he said. "On the community level, the loss of social
reflected in critical ways: higher crime rates, lower educational
performance, and more teen pregnancy, child suicide, low-birth-weight
and infant mortality."
Kalamazoo County scored
103 on social trust. Those surveyed were asked
whether they trusted others in their neighborhood, at work or in church
whether they trusted local police.
The community's faith-based
social-capital score was 99. It measured
membership in religious communities, attendance at religious services
participation in church-related activities.
Kalamazoo County had
a racial-group-trust score of 99. That measured how
well people trust racial groups other than their own.
The county's protest-politics
index was 108, indicating a high level of
participation in labor unions, civil rights organizations and political
It also scored 108
in giving and volunteering.
score was 98, which showed people in similar
communities are slightly more active in organizations in attendance and
service than in Kalamazoo County.
"We are looking
very well compared to communities like ours, and in
particular informal socializing," said Royal.
Reprinted courtesy of the Kalamazoo Gazette.