Have you ever wondered if there was some small thing you could do for your neighbors if you got to know them well enough—and if there was something they could do for you in return? Time-banking, a community-centered model of sharing skills for people of all income levels and abilities, is taking root in Philly.
“There’s such a huge variety of things people do for time-banking,” said Good Neighbors Time Bank (GNTB) coordinator Julianna Beauvais, who stopped by the Kensington Community Food Co-op in late August for the inaugural meet-up of a new time-bank group in the neighborhood. It’s not only about trading tasks, she said. “You’re able to get community through time-banking.”
Beauvais, a West Chester native, is starting her junior year at West Chester University, where she’s studying communications and journalism. She came onboard to coordinate GNTB soon after it was founded about a year ago by Allison Smale. This time bank now has groups in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. It operates in collaboration with KenCrest (a Pennsylvania-based provider of community and career support for people with intellectual disabilities), and got its start-up funding thanks to a two-year grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.
Time-banking isn’t new, Beauvais explained. These communities are popping up all over the US and the world. Smale and Beauvias are particularly inspired by the Phoenixville Area Time Bank, which has more than 300 members, and they’re excited to bring a similar opportunity to Philly residents.
So how does time-banking work? At GNTB, it’s a membership model, with an annual fee of $25 for individuals, $50 for families, and a sliding scale for organizations (beginning at $75). If you want to join but don’t have the cash, don’t worry—contact a coordinator, who can help work out a plan for you to volunteer for the time bank instead of paying.
Participating is simple. Time-bank groups in different neighborhoods and regions hold monthly socials and other events (you can check out the calendar online) for current and potential members, where folks get to know each other and their skills. A simple online interface lets people post things they need help with—or help they can offer to others—and message other members about arrangements. (If you don’t have access to a computer, or can’t use one, the time-bank community can help you enroll and participate.)
The system works with “time dollars.” Each hour of service equals one time dollar (which is non-taxable and has no monetary value). Members can rack up time dollars through hours spent in providing their services, and then spend them by receiving hours of other services from fellow members.
“There are lots of different ways you can start up, depending on what you’re comfortable with,” Beauvais said. That could mean simply attending a meet-up and hearing more in person.
And get creative when thinking about what you could offer the time-bank community. Beauvais says new members tend to think their career skills are what they should bring to the table, but they should think beyond day jobs. “What do you like to do?” is the key question.
Time-bank members can offer or receive things like house-painting or yard work, meal prep, baked goods, or lessons in everything from knitting to software design, or just a ride to the grocery store (any monetary costs, like gas mileage, associated with the task are carried by the person receiving the service). Once folks begin to use the time-bank, Beauvais said, they often discover that the things they like to do anyway match up with needs they didn’t even know others had.
Time-banking operates on a totally democratic notion of time—i.e., time spent doing one thing is never more valuable than time spent on something else. An hour of gardening, an hour of math tutoring, or an hour of cooking all equal one time dollar, with no skills privileged over others. This is part of what makes a time bank a widely accessible notion, where people of all abilities can give or receive services according to their skills and needs.
GNTB has attracted more than 30 members in its first year, and has the ambitious goal of growing to 200 by next year. With no centralized physical location, GNTB meetups happen in places like coffee shops, libraries, and co-ops.
“I am just really passionate about helping communities and people in any way that I can,” Beauvais said of her role. “I feel very strongly that people can get together and help their community, so time-banking really spoke to me in that way.”
Kensington community members interested in getting acquainted with the newest GNTB group can show up for hour-long meet-ups at the Kensington Community Food Co-op a 7pm every 4th Thursday of the month.
This story is part of our collaboration with Broke In Philly, a news media initiative among 19 local news organizations to provide in-depth, nuanced and solutions-oriented reporting on the issues of poverty and the push for economic justice in Philadelphia.