In the wake of the new millennium’s Great Recession, many banks’ reputations have been severely shaken. Not so for the Woodstock Timebank. It operates using the “currency of caring,” which involves the trading of services — anything from driving a senior citizen to a doctor’s appointment to providing math tutoring or fixing a leaky faucet.
Since civil rights lawyer and activist Dr. Edgar Cahn developed the concept while studying at the London School of Economics in the 1980s, time banking has spread to more than 80 U.S. communities and over a dozen foreign countries. Woodstock’s time bank began about four years ago, according to Thea Hambright, a retired social worker and therapist who helped launch the bank with Kristine Flones, a homeopath. Within a year, 100 people had signed up; membership now stands at about 300.
It’s a simple system. Individuals pay $35 to join, or $50 per family. Membership allows access to a database maintained by the national time banking organization. Listed in it are services offered and requested by other members in Woodstock. For each hour of service a member provides, he or she receives an hour of service back. Requests are made by phone or e-mail.
“When you join, we give you two hours,” Hambright says. “So you have two hours to spend right away.” Members are also required to input services they are willing to provide. Unlike a conventional barter system, in a time bank the trading isn’t exclusive to just two individuals. “It spreads to another person,” Hambright says, and functions on the philosophy of paying-it-forward.
Time banking shouldn’t be confused with volunteerism, which Hambright describes as a “one-down, one-up” situation: someone (typically an advantaged party) gives, and someone else (usually underprivileged or in need) gains. “In the time bank, everyone is equal,” she says. An hour of time offered by an attorney, for example, is equivalent to that of a retired gent willing to rake leaves for 60 minutes. “It creates a level playing field where every member is an asset with many things to offer,” says Flones on the time bank’s Web site.
Time banking also helps build a sense of community, something Hambright learned firsthand as a relative newcomer to Woodstock. “Within a month, I had a community. As soon as you join, you have 300 people — their names, addresses, and phone numbers — and what they’ll do for you. That’s pretty amazing.”
Hambright’s most memorable bank “withdrawal” occurred when she became hyperallergic to poison ivy and needed to have the noxious plants removed from her property. No local nursery or gardening service had the time for the small job, but she found a gardener in the time bank willing to tackle it. “A godsend!” she says