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The horrific and unfathomable events of Sept. 11 changed Americans in so many ways. They are more generous, more community-conscious and show a renewed faith in God.

Robert D. Putnam, an expert on "social capital," or how we connect with each other, said this week here that this change is erasing several decades of decline in Americans' lack of relationship with communities, organizations and neighbors.

But Putnam noted the generation that lived through the Pearl Harbor attack had remained devoted to community. But this is not true of succeeding generations, he said, and he's not so sure the current changes will endure.

"It's always like that after a tragedy," he said, pointing to the Oklahoma City bombing as one example. "There's a peak in community-mindedness, (and) those are usually short-lived."

Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, spoke during a United Way of Buffalo and Erie County luncheon in the Buffalo Convention Center. It attracted more than 200 people, including city employees, religious organizations, nonprofit and community-based organizations.

Putnam discussed the 25-year decline in social capital and the dire need to reverse this trend. He said the decline has multiple causes, including television and two-career families.

Arlene F. Kaukus, president of the United Way chapter, said the luncheon was organized to create discussions in the community and to serve as an educational tool.

"We are all here to learn from his research," she said. "How do we turn around the downward trend of the country? This is especially important for the country in light of Sept. 11."

Putnam's presention was based on extensive research and findings in his book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community."

"If you live in a community where people are well-connected with each other, you'll get more done," he said.

Putnam said a healthy community creates an environment of cultural reciprocity, deters crime, creates better schools and more productive youths, and has other "immeasurable" benefits.

"We need to reinvent ways of connecting that fit the way we live now," he said.


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