Arpe, Brockman Miller, Sullivan to talk social capital for Chautauqua Speaks

Arpe, Brockman Miller, and Sullivan

Deborah Trefts
Staff writer

Connection between people of different ages and generations, economic circumstances, and ethnicities is a powerful social force. So much so that it yields significant benefits during college, in professional settings, and in myriad other places and ways throughout one’s lifetime.

Having initially recognized the necessity of “social capital” for the well-being of underserved children and young adults in southeast Florida, and later the many opportunities provided at Chautauqua Institution for sharing it, Mary Arpe founded the nonprofit Community Compact.

Its mission is “to facilitate opportunities for students to acquire the social capital they need to be successful in their future endeavors.”

At 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Chautauqua Women’s Club House, Arpe, along with Beth Brockman Miller and Daniel Sullivan, will give the third Chautauqua Speaks presentation of the season: “Sharing Social Capital: A Chautauqua Prototype.”

In 2017, Community Compact launched its first week-long Summer Scholars at Chautauqua program.

This season, one group of nine high-achieving, under-resourced college students will be staying on the grounds and immersing themselves in lectures, performances and other cultural events and activities during Week Four. A second group will be doing likewise during Week Five.

“Last year we took them to the opera, and it was their favorite thing,” Sullivan said.

“Surprisingly, they go to things we didn’t think they would,” Arpe added.

She said she grew up in a middle-class home in Palm Beach County, Florida. Her mother, a reporter covering education, found that the books many students were reading were 30 years behind those of other students in the same school district. This 30-year discrepancy and deficiency made a lasting impression on her.

“My parents knew that education is really important,” Arpe said. “I went to a Seven Sisters college, Vassar, and to law school (at the University of Florida). I had this great experience, but those kids were still there. I came home and things hadn’t changed. … So, I tried to change this in Pahokee.”

Her work experiences, including a position at a large state university, IBM, and the law firm Gelfand and Arpe, P.A. — where she has been an equity partner since 1991 — as well as her training at Leadership Palm Beach County, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, prepared her for leading social justice initiatives, and diversity and inclusion programs. 

She has also served on the boards of United Way, Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition, Nelle Smith Residence for Girls, Toward a More Perfect Union, and Palm Beach Habilitation Center.

Arpe first came to Chautauqua Institution in 1997 with her husband and daughter. She has returned every summer, and her family’s since purchased a house here.

“In 2017, with the help of a lot of other people, I recruited six students,” she said. “They stayed at the King’s Daughters and Sons on Vincent. With the help of Dan (Sullivan) and Beth (Brockman Miller), the program has gone on. The overarching organization has been Community Compact, a 501c3, since day one.”

Initially, Community Compact “focused on opportunities for establishing complementary partnerships between nonprofit organizations and college students. Subsequently, it created several initiatives – including Gleaning Greatness, designed to provide college choice programs to high-potential high school students in rural areas of the country.”  

Although two years were lost to COVID, Community Compact’s Summer Scholars at Chautauqua program has continued and expanded.

A long-time Chautauquan, Brockman Miller – whose “early experiences at Chautauqua fostered (a) passion for peace, education, and community building” – serves as Community Compact’s executive director.

“Beth was our miracle find,” Arpe said. “As this program grew, I just couldn’t do this by myself with a few volunteers.”

A co-founder of the Princeton Peace Prize, Brockman Miller designed an interdisciplinary major in Peace Studies at Princeton University, from which she graduated summa cum laude. Until they moved to Chautauqua in 2022, she and her husband co-facilitated a retreat center, organic farm and educational cooperative in New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

“Summer Scholars at Chautauqua provides a structure for Chautauquans to connect with bright young people who have high aspirations and who have faced economic adversity in their lives,” Brockman Miller said. “… We can’t underestimate the power of connection – especially between people who are from different generations, ethnicities or economic classes. There is so much that can be learned from one another – if the conditions are right and if both people are willing.”

Sullivan, who is also a long-time Chautauquan, has served for as a mentor to college presidents for more than a decade and an adviser to more than 30 independent colleges, universities and schools.

In addition, he is president emeritus of St. Lawrence University, a former president of Allegheny College, and a former board chair and senior fellow of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

At Chautauqua, Sullivan is a member of the Women’s Club and was involved in rewriting its bylaws. An avid tennis player, he also plays the euphonium in the Thursday Morning Brass and Chautauqua Community Band.

“What I’ve been trying to do is to find ways of connecting students with opportunities,” he said. “I’m trying to develop mechanisms – career, personal development, opportunities to write.”

In addition to serving as a “broker for social capital,” Sullivan has been providing the research that undergirds Community Compact’s theory of change.

“Decide on the goal,” he said. “A transformational outcome – what you hope students will become. Then (decide) on a plausible set of actions you’ll take to lead to those outcomes.”

Arpe said she had “had an intuitive understanding at a superficial level,” and then “when Dan came, he was able to drive home study after study.”

Regarding social capital theory, Sullivan said: “When attempting to help someone, you’re connecting them. You are teaching, coaching them about how to behave – how to knock on doors, and find out how the system works.”

“A lot can be said about giving them a sense of self-confidence (and an understanding that they’re) connected to a special opportunity,” he continued. “Mary and Beth try to find students who are ready to move; they’re beginning to think they can do things. … (Their) work is at a tipping point.”  

Sullivan views Chautauqua Institution as an “aggregator of social capital,” in part because it is a “walking community” enabling people to readily interact with one another, including from their porches.

“Colleges and universities are working on it,” he said. “But nobody has a situation where the students are plunked into the middle of this powerful set of resources.”

As Brockman Miller said:  “Some of the research we’re talking about shows that economic connectedness – (between) lower (and) higher status – has a higher probability of greater success. It’s one of the best markers. It happens on college campuses, and Chautauqua is like that, but even better.” 

Summer Scholars at Chautauqua “has a lot of consistency with Chautauqua Institution’s mission and plan forward,” she added. “And we find we’re making concrete steps to make (its) IDEA vision a reality. Simply befriending someone who is different than you are can make a huge difference in both lives.”

Chautauquans will have the opportunity to interact and even initiate lifelong friendships with individual Summer Scholars at an outdoor “Meet and Greet” held at 4 p.m. on July 18 and July 25 in Miller Park.

Meanwhile, join Arpe, Brockman Miller, and Sullivan at the CWC House on Tuesday morning for their informative and uplifting Chautauqua Speaks presentation on sharing social capital at Chautauqua.


The author Deborah Trefts

Deborah Trefts is a policy scientist with extensive United States, Canadian and additional international experience in conservation. She focuses on the resolution of ocean and freshwater-related challenges and the art and science of deciphering and developing public policy at all levels from global to local.