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Maayan Simon of Sebastopol had three people do separate projects for her — and didn't pay any of them for their work.

An experienced designer created a graphic for Simon's business website. Another person filmed and edited a video for the website. A third person came to her home and prepped and painted a bench as a piece of indoor furniture.

Simon didn't pay for their labor because she's a member of the fledgling Sonoma County Time Exchange. It functions like a bank with people "depositing" and "withdrawing" hours of "time dollars" for services and talents.

Simon is a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and she's deposited time in the bank to do integrated marketing, donor-driven fundraising, coaching and campaign strategy plans for community groups.

The people who did the work for her may not specifically need the services she's offering, and that's what makes the time-bank approach unique.

"Somebody doesn't necessarily need my expertise to benefit from the Time Exchange," she said. "The guy who did the video is trying to stack up hours to get his car worked on. It's a cool experience."

As a grass-roots activist interested in creating a "gift economy," Simon signed up for the Time Exchange when it launched in December. Other local participants stress that they've joined not just to save cash, but to foster community and create new relationships.

"I like the potential it has for community building. It's good to be able to leverage skills rather than money to get all of your needs met," said Simon, who has participated in trade and barter arrangements in the past.

The Sonoma County Time Exchange, which was established under the auspices of the Santa Rosa-based Share Exchange, has about 240 members who've paid a $25 signup fee to participate. New members apply by using an online software questionnaire called "hOurworld," which asks what talents or services they are offering and seeking.

Many local members are small-business owners, artists and people who work in the manual trades, said Gilad Talmor, coordinator of the Time Exchange.

Among the services people have given and received are gardening, tutoring, plumbing, teaching a foreign language and massage therapy.

"Time is an equal opportunity employer," said Talmor, who is familiar with several successful, well-established time banks in his native Israel. "It's based on egalitarianism. Everyone has a skill and an asset."

He's aware of existing time banks in 14 countries and about a dozen similar programs in the United States. A well-established time bank has operated for a decade in Dane County, Wisc., where the University of Wisconsin at Madison is located.

Merith Weisman, coordinator of the Center for Community Engagement at Sonoma State University, is one of the founders of the local time exchange and SSU students, staff and alumni will be encouraged to join a new SSU satellite Time Exchange program this fall.

"I learned about time banking years ago," Weisman said. "It's part of the solution for many solutions. It's a way to leverage assets and I don't like waste."

She's deposited time dollars in the bank for editing and teaching the game of Chinese mah jongg, and she's hoping to earn enough time credits to hire someone to sew a flag for her small yacht.

Weisman envisions students depositing time for services at which they excel, such as computer technology support, and withdrawing time for services they need, like long-distance rides.

"Our students have a whole set of skills. They're available to walk dogs, bathe pets, do housecleaning and give tutoring. They'd want things like rides or help with studying," she said. "It would be easy to exchange within the university, and the whole point is to build community."

SSU graduate student Anne Field-Pierce is organizing the SSU satellite program as part of her master's degree project for "Action for a Viable Future" through the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies. She anticipates 400 people joining the Time Exchange this fall, and says in addition to depositing and withdrawing services, the club's scope may include exchange of food, clothing and books.

Art Warmouth, a retired SSU psychology professor, has written extensively about the concept of time banking, and he is actively involved in the launch of the SSU Time Exchange.

While students and staff will be encouraged to trade time within the campus community, they'll also have access to the Sonoma County Time Exchange computer database of services.

Janet Parmer is a Bay Area feature writer. She can be reached at jhparmer@comcast.net.