Building Social Capital for a Vibrant Community

What's in your toolkit?

By Angie Matthiessen

While living in Georgia years ago and working in my first social work position, I spent time on the postpartum floor talking with teenage moms before they went home with their baby for the first time. I remember meeting girls that were just 11 and 12 years old having their first baby. Later, I worked in pediatric oncology with families and their children who had cancer.  Something I witnessed with both jobs has stayed with me for twenty five years now. It mattered if these families had resources and ‘people’ in their toolkit. If they had no one around them, it was much harder to cope with being a young mom or the illness of a child.

WUAre you one of these people in your family who provides that extra something when a family or friend is in a tight spot?  These are examples of what we call social capital.  These are the people in our lives that we lean on when we need to, and they lean on us when the tables are turned.

Today, for many complex reasons, many of the individuals and families that our United Way of Charlotte County partner agencies work with do not have this type of social capital.  Without it, the disadvantages that they face can intensify, such as lower wage and lower education.

While doing my research for this column I found there are three dimensions to social capital: interconnected networks of relationships; levels of trust; and resources gained and transferred by virtue of social participation. Furthermore, studies demonstrate levels of employment in communities, academic performance, individual physical health, economic growth, and immigrant and ethnic enterprise is tied to social capital.

Recently our UWCC Women United affinity group gathered to share what social capital meant to them. It was enlightening to hear their comments --- the power to envision, close friends, that one special person who can hold you accountable, and the comfort of having and being a confidante who listens. I then asked the Women United members what they would like to tell the moms of our community collaboration, Kids Thrive. What would be the most important things to keep in their toolkit?  Some of the comments were “I’m not so different” and “everyone struggles”. Other members stated “look for peer encouragement” and “be someone who reaches out to others”. One long time member said, “just remember that everyone is just as nervous as you are” and someone else shared “build your own community.”appt

MomsIn June our Women United members gathered to support our funded collaborative Kids Thrive and the Circle of Parents Moms. This spring project was the final step in helping them with time management and goal setting. The group provided them with planners and encouraged them to step out of their comfort zone and go for their dreams. In addition Women United members wrote inspirational quotes on the inside pages of their planners. Join us, be part of our circle!

Women United envisions a community where every woman and family can reach their dreams. All generations of women can band together to transform and change the lives of those we touch, forever. Our impact is to encourage lifelong educational success because once you have an education, no one can take that from you – the sky’s the limit.  By offering a helping hand and bridging the gap together we are making a difference. We’re a group of compassionate local women investing and paying it forward. Our platform is to empower moms to raise healthy children.  If you are looking for a way to connect with others and would like to be part of building the social capital in Charlotte County, please contact us. UWCC and Women United offer many opportunities for you to help someone. We welcome you to join our circle. WU

To learn more about Women United, go to:

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission: Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty please contact Angie Matthiessen, the Executive Director of United Way of Charlotte County. She can be reached at or at 941-627-3539.