Good Works

Good Works Highlights Social Capital Builders

March 18, 2024

By La Crosse Community Foundation

While La Crosse Community Foundation is best known for grantmaking, supporting local nonprofits, and managing charitable funds well, it has an even bigger goal: making our community the best place it can be.

To that end, the La Crosse Community Foundation board of directors and CEO Jamie Schloegel have declared 2024 the year of building social capital. Perhaps better understood as strengthening social bonds, we view community relationships as drivers for the well-being of our neighborhoods and cities. And they’re a way for La Crosse Community Foundation to realize its vision to be a catalyst for a vibrant, generous, and inclusive community — and through that, improving the quality of life for everyone in the region.

The Good Works column in the La Crosse Tribune shares the stories of people in our community who are building social capital through their own good works.

What is social capital?

For our first column of 2024, we asked Jamie to explain what is social capital and why it matters in La Crosse County.

La Crosse Community Foundation CEO Jamie Schloegel volunteers at Rotary Lights with her daughter.

Jamie Schloegel of La Crosse Community Foundation and her daughter Violet volunteer at Rotary Lights. Volunteering and engaging in community activities is one way Schloegel works to strengthen connections that build social capital.

Why are you so passionate about building social capital?

Community bonds represent the strength of relationships within a community, reflecting trust, mutual understanding, and shared values. They’re friendships, professional connections, and civic commitments that bring us together. They are the social glue that keeps a community intact, impacting everything from economic prosperity to individual well-being.

“Bowling Alone,” written by Harvard University sociologist Robert Putnam, talks about the decline of social capital in the U.S. It was groundbreaking when published in 2000 and continues to be relevant now. His research, outlined in the book, draws a direct line between dwindling community engagement and broader social issues, pointing out how crucial these bonds are for societal health and equity.

Social capital also offers economic benefits. A study by the World Bank found that communities with robust networks tend to have better economic outcomes, lower crime rates, and improved public health across all identity groups. These aren’t coincidences but tangible results of strengthening our community ties.

How does social capital affect inclusivity and equity?

Strong community bonds create inclusive and equitable opportunities. They provide a platform for diverse voices to be heard and respected. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, showed that neighborhoods with diverse social networks tend to be more inclusive and less prone to social tensions.

Healthy social networks empower people across different identity groups to work collectively for common goals. This is especially effective in addressing local issues and advocating for community needs. A study in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” found that neighborhoods with high levels of group effectiveness (social cohesion combined with willingness to intervene for the common good) had lower rates of crime and violence.

It’s important to note that social capital can also help bridge divides because it fosters a network of support and shared resources among diverse community members. When you build strong relationships, you facilitate the exchange of information, opportunities, and resources, such as job leads. Everyone has heard the phrase, “It’s all about who you know.” When we have social capital among all community members, we expand the circle of “who you know” and, in doing so, share access to opportunities some might otherwise not have had.

How can all of us help build social capital in our community?

While building these bonds requires intention and effort, it isn’t difficult. It’s really about creating spaces where people can connect, share experiences, and have fun together. That’s where trust is built, support is nurtured, and a sense of belonging is cultivated. And it’s something virtually everyone can contribute to.

You can start by engaging with your neighbors and local community members — a friendly greeting or conversation can go a long way in building ties. Volunteering for local events or community projects is another excellent way to contribute; it helps the community and allows you to meet and collaborate with different people. Shopping at local businesses is also key; it strengthens the local economy and fosters relationships within the community.

Additionally, attending public meetings or joining local clubs and organizations can increase your involvement in community decisions and activities, further building a sense of belonging and mutual support. I encourage you to think about an activity in the community that you’ve been curious to explore and where you don’t already know most of the other people there. As we start the new year, I challenge you to join me in expanding your social capital outside your typical social circles. If everyone reading this connects with someone new this year, La Crosse County will be more vibrant, healthy, and equitable.

This and all other Good Works columns are reprinted with permission from the La Crosse Tribune.