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Bridging Social Capital

Andy Singleterry explains why friendship is the best context for service

San Jose Bridge Communities develops leaders in a cross-class context

Andy Singleterry, Servant Partners San Jose site leader and executive director of San Jose Bridge Communities, shares about the importance of friendships and “social capital” in community.



I've been re-reading Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, one of the foundational texts for San Jose Bridge Communities (SJBC)—"bridge community" is basically a re-phrase of "bridging social capital," the resource Putnam describes. I first read the book twenty years ago while working at a nonprofit service agency. That experience inspired me to build opportunities for cross-class friendships in mutual service, not just resource transfers from rich to poor. Two decades later, SJBC is the fruit.


San Jose Bridge Communities

Bowling Alone traces the recent history of social capital, i.e. community connections, in the United States. Emerging out of the shared struggles of the Great Depression and World War II, America experienced years of deepening commitments to each other. More people participated in volunteer organizations, went to church, and hosted dinner parties. Then, about 1970, something changed. Americans began to turn to themselves and let connections go. Just as social capital steadily rose from 1945 to 1970, it steadily fell from 1970 to 2000. Putnam calls it "social capital" to name connections as a real resource. In losing connections, we don't just have less fun. He marshals convincing evidence that we lose health, safety, prosperity, and democracy.


SJBC members regularly prepare meals together

Bowling Alone came out in 2000, before 9/11, social media, or smartphones. The new edition includes new sections examining the twenty years since, finding that, sadly, the trends of 1970 to 2000 have mostly continued. What would it take to turn back these forces? We don't know— we certainly wouldn't wish for depression and war to band us together. But, for our participants, we hope San Jose Bridge Communities is building their bridging social capital.

Wouldn’t we all prefer to work together with a friend, with whom we can talk, plan, and dream, rather than receive anonymously what someone else thinks we need? We need a cross-class context for such transformative friendships to happen—to bridge social capital.

The work of SJBC concentrates on the value of being with one another in community, especially across barriers that divide us. We also take inspiration from A Nazareth Manifesto, where author Samuel Wells writes, “The goal of all our working for and working with is not independent, free-standing individuals released from all setbacks and problems and challenges; but an interactive and permeable community of interdependent beings, who discover gifts where others might only see needs, and unearth treasures where others might only see trouble.”


Service to those lacking resources happens best in the context of friendship. Wouldn’t we all prefer to work together with a friend, with whom we can talk, plan, and dream, rather than receive anonymously what someone else thinks we need? We need a cross-class context for such transformative friendships to happen—to bridge social capital. We hope to be that kind of community.


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