Science is unequivocal, we need each other. Our lives are constellations of relationships: strong and weak; distant or close. We are our happiest selves when we are in relationships that foster mutuality and trust, and are in environments that support thriving. For children to thrive they need supportive and secure families; for families to thrive, they need supportive and secure neighborhoods. Our last three Champion of Children reports have laid the ground work; the 2017 Champion of Children Report brings it all together with the singular focus of strengthening social fabric in our communities.
Social fabric refers to the strength of relationships created by authentic interactions and engagement between a community’s residents, organizations, schools, and businesses. While the definitions of social capital and social fabric are similar, social fabric capitalizes on existing social capital by explicitly naming authenticity and equity as key elements of relationship-building. United Way of Central Ohio has determined that, in order to tackle the issues that matter most in reducing poverty, it is critical to focus efforts in local neighborhoods of great need, and great potential. Champion of Children embraces this neighborhood work as well, to ensure children are linked to resources and surrounded by strong support systems that help them reach their full potential. By listening to residents and co-creating smart solutions that help build trust and a sense of belonging, we can work together to connect community members in meaningful ways that strengthen social fabric and lead to strong families and vibrant neighborhoods.
The 2017 Champion of Children Report notes that:
United Way of Central Ohio has identified the South Side and South Linden as areas of great need and great opportunity to focus on co-creating smart community solutions with the goal of strengthening social fabric.
52% of loneliness comes from the environment in which children grow up.
During the 2015-16 academic school year, an average of 30.6% students in the South Side left school as did 20.9% of students in South Linden.
In 2015, 11% of all Franklin County households were headed by a single parent, including 12.7% households in the South Side and 25.1% in South Linden.
In 2016, the violent crime rate in the South Side was 27.3 per 1000 people and 38.6 per 1000 people in South Linden.
Despite the disparaging situation for many living in poverty in Central Ohio, there are several means to capitalize on the social capital and social fabric. Specific to central Ohio, the following report highlights focus on forming authentic connections between individuals and institutions to make a positive and flourishing environment. They include:
- Bridging Social Capital
- Meeting Community Members at their Door
- Empowering Community Members
- Keeping Promises to the Community
Together, these objectives can result in institutions can becoming valued anchors in the community through deepening bonds with community members. These objectives help institutions move from a transactional relationship to transformational relationships with community members.
To have meaningful social connections is a basic human need. People long to be known to each other. Strengthening the social fabric in our communities can help build these connections and can be done by undertaking the following activities:
- Promote greater understanding between diverse community members by supporting engagement activities that uplift the gifts everyone brings to the table.
- Promote greater awareness of personal and structural biases by supporting authentic and inclusive community dialogue.
- Promote resident empowerment by using engagement activities to uncover and leverage existing assets and strengthen community bonds.
- Use “third places” that bring community members together in a spirit of inclusion and cooperation.
And finally, we must continue to push for systems change. The degree of inequality in central Ohio–a community that boasts a robust economy, strong public-private partnerships, and a diverse mix of people– is profound and hurts all of us. We must continue to push for policy changes that promote upward mobility and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, which will not only advance an individual’s economic situation, but will benefit future generations, including by virtue of an expanded social network. This is the future. Creating institutional arrangements and communities that support strong interpersonal connections ensures that we all do better, together.
To read the 2017 Champion of Children Report: Strengthening Social Fabric in its entirety, click here.