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The Triple Role of Community Institutions Published: Sunday, April 19, 1998 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

The other day at a televised session of Our Children First Congress, extraordinarily led by the First Lady Maga Rosselló, we were sharing with the public some key strategies for strengthening communities focusing on children, families, schools and neighborhoods. Two key considerations are critical in the quest for simple and beautiful solutions. One concerns children as the sources of future wellness, competitiveness and contributions. The second is the community, because children growth and development and community robustness sustain each other. Without both it will be very difficult for the family and the school to execute their social purposes.

The family is the first institution, the elementary cell of social life. It is here that mutuality and reciprocity are first experienced and civility is first modeled and taught. The family is the first educational institution. All others build on its achievements or weaknesses in evolving the personal foundation of relating to others (reciprocity) and to community interactions and behaviors (civic virtue).

Schools are second to the family in the task of contributing to children growth and development. Their essential mission relates to creative teaching, sharing of knowledge and the acquisition of core skills. Education adds value to character development.

On the other hand, community institutions, such as neighborhoods, churches, associations and voluntary organizations contribute to sustain mutuality and civic virtue in three ways, that following research we preferred to call the: The Triple Role of Community Institutions:

They couple and mediate between children and the rest of formal organizations, such like government, courts and others.

  • They set patterns and make arrangements that discharge some of the tasks and services that otherwise are loaded on the government or overwhelm children, individuals and families.
  • They help to educate children by introducing and reinforcing the mentality that sustain mutual and civil commitments.

Alexis de Tocqueville argued for the need to protect the local communities and more specific community organizations as the bases of children, youth and individual strengths. Here we confront a very powerful system design proposition stressing that the growth of government size, scope, mission and control is paralleled by the decline of community organization. These two trends intensified in the past by a governmentalism paradigm and resulted in cut-off individuals, limited in mutuality and civic virtue. The point is that community organizations can perform a core role in correcting both excessive individualism and excessive government.

The strategy is not for seeking a unitary societal community but rather to promote a pluralistic society composed of thousands of communities, coupling, rendering services and educating children, youth and families as well.

Copyright 1998 QBS, Inc.
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