TimeBank offers exchange of service among neighbors

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Daya Naef, right, of New Orleans,  had her garden spruced up Friday with the help of TimeBank workers with whom she has exchanged services. Here, Gretchen Zalkind, left, and Carolyn Jackson, center, work as Naef looks on.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Daya Naef, right, of New Orleans, had her garden spruced up Friday with the help of TimeBank workers with whom she has exchanged services. Here, Gretchen Zalkind, left, and Carolyn Jackson, center, work as Naef looks on.

Whether wanting to trade an oil change for an hour of yoga class or trade an hour of fence-painting for a haircut, all exchanges are viable as a member of the New Orleans TimeBank.

In the organization of approximately 200 members, exchanges of services translate into hours of currency, which are deposited into an online bank. And an hour equals an hour equals an hour — no matter the service provided or request fulfilled. Earn an hour, and add to an online account. Spend an hour, and it is debited.

Gretchen Zalkind, one of the founders, said the local TimeBank was formed after she gathered more than a year ago with two others who had participated in time banks elsewhere.

Zalkind said they started with about 30 or 40 members and add about one member every week.

The concept goes back to the earliest practice of bartering, yet the latest technology makes it possible on the scale it exists — with more than 200 time banks nationwide.

The national TimeBank organization, based in Washington, D.C., and started in 1995, states a mission “to expand a movement that promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchange of time and talent.”

Also working internationally, the organization has broader goals of using time banks for “social justice, bridges between diverse communities and local ecological sustainability.”

Zalkind said the hour-to-hour exchange is a crucial part of the concept for two reasons. For one, it acts as a great equalizer — all talents, skills and jobs are deemed equal in value.

Secondly, it keeps the hours from being taxed. If values are assigned to different skills and exchanged accordingly, it enters the realm of bartering, which can be taxed, Zalkind said.

In multiple cases nationally, TimeBank Hours have been ruled tax exempt by the IRS.

Friday morning in the Carrollton neighborhood, Ricky Haddan helped to clear Daya Naef’s overgrown garden. Because of back surgery, Naef said, she can’t yet clear her garden on her own.

Haddan, a full-time college student studying music, said he hasn’t spent any of the hours in his account yet but hopes to take voice lessons at some point.

Carolyn Jackson also earned an hour. Haddan said he earned most of his hours doing yard work, while Carolyn said she gives neighbors rides to the grocery store and goes with people in need of a walking companion.

For Naef, it reminds her of days of old.

“I like the idea of exchange,” she said. “It’s like old time — when someone needs something, neighbors reach out to neighbors.”

Naef said she earned her hours working at the time bank’s fundraising rummage sale.

She said she has used hours to get help moving in a new refrigerator and plans to use more getting her chairs reupholstered. She also has cats often needing sitting, with pet care as one of the bank’s most popular services.

Naef said she offers computer training and additionally plans to offer her abilities as a notary and motivational speaker.

Zalkind said that the movement has exploded during the past five years, with a dismal economy, and directly matching needs with talent can be very efficient.

The New Orleans TimeBank doesn’t just open its membership to individuals. It also has a growing number of nonprofits that partner up and reward their volunteers with time bank hours.

Nonprofits, organizations and individuals can range enormously in services they can offer in exchange. In some cities, there are institutes such as symphonies that offer a two-hour performance ticket for two time bank hours.

Jackson, who joined about five months ago, said she earned hours volunteering at the Freret Neighborhood Center’s Halloween party. For the added volunteer incentive, the Freret Center allows the TimeBank staff members to use their computer lab for hosting new member events.

“It’s all based on reciprocity,” Zalkind said.

The group is inclusive — the only requirement is that new members attend an introductory workshop.

Allowing people to watch your children or house sit requires a level of trust, Zalkind acknowledged, but said there haven’t been any issues.

For one, there are opportunities to get to know people over time. And in her experience working with members around the country, Zalkind said, she hasn’t ever heard about anything bad happening. She said the New Orleans group is particularly willing to trust.

The software protects personal information, allowing members to share only what they want with others.

And a large part of the force behind the organization is that it fosters community and fosters trust.

There are also numerous events for people to get better acquainted. The group has largely grown by word of mouth. Many of the new members join the group as friends, neighbors and relatives of current members.

For Zalkind, the future is full of possibility. She said she is working with the Freret Neighborhood Center to focus on seniors, especially those for whom simply having someone to change light bulbs or go to the grocery store can make the difference between staying at home or moving out.

Zalkind, who also takes care of her mother, spends most of her account hours on having other members spend an hour or two with her mom putting a puzzle together or going on a walk so she can leave the house.

Whether watering plants or helping with ré sumé s, giving lessons in ceramics or building websites, the idea is that everyone has something to offer, and everyone has a need to fill. More than that, it saves people money, builds friendships and community and is an efficient way and uniquely personal way of conducting business.

The New Orleans TimeBank will be holding workshops from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Musician’s Coop and from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Jan. 19 at the Freret Neighborhood Center.

For information, go to nolatimebank.org.