'Building Bridges in Community Empowers Everyone,' Says Professor
Barred windows, crumbling buildings, no safe green space for children to play– this is the gritty picture Dr. Mike Stout paints of a rough neighborhood in North Philadelphia in the 1990s. Vividly, Stout, associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University and director of the Center for Community Engagement, remembers walking past this area as an undergraduate student. From this he learned that some of our opportunities are afforded to us due to where we were born and who we call family. Now he works to empower people from all walks of life to have a voice.
He’s a pioneer in the research of social capital – the concept that some resources are accessed more readily through connections and trust with other individuals.
One way for a citizen to effect social change is through voting, but Stout says that since our economic sector influences our political sector, it shouldn’t be surprising that those in the lowest economic brackets are often greatly discouraged about the power of their vote.
For those people who are disenfranchised, who see a lack of efficacy and don’t see a way out, Stout knows that bridging and bonding their social capital is key.
Feeling safe and valued starts at home, and in 2011, the Community Partnership of the Ozarks in Springfield, Missouri, joined a network of four other communities nationwide in establishing the Neighbor for Neighbor project. This initiative, supported by the Kettering Foundation and Everyday Democracy, is a community effort to minimize economic challenges by letting individual citizens voice concerns about a neighborhood and making positive changes.