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11/06/2007

 Community Time Banks Continue Expansion

The Boston area has several community time banks: The Lynn Time Bank, incorporated in 2004, has more than 300 members. The Cape Ann Time Bank, founded last year, has 120. The nascent Time Trade Circle in Cambridge, with 50 members, expects to ramp up this month when a full-time intern comes on board. They join a network of 140 time banks established over the past two decades in the U.S. and abroad.

A time bank is where people donate their services and receive credit for the time, which can then be �spent� for other member services. The brainchild of University of the District of Columbia law professor Edgar Cahn, they offer a twist on the age-old interdependence of tight-knit communities as an antidote to the isolation that can plague modern life. He estimates a time bank opens every week, thanks in part to software that eases the arranging and recording of transactions.

In Maine, the decade-old Portland Time Bank has 750 active members, mostly lower-income, who last year engaged in more than 25,000 transactions, including medical care at a health center that accepts time dollars. The District of Columbia�s Time Dollar Youth Court allows first-time offenders charged with minor infractions to sit on youth juries to earn time dollars to ��buy�� refurbished computers. In Texas, members of a time bank planted a community garden.

Unlike the monetary economy, which values a doctor�s time more than a day-care worker�s, in time banks the lawyer�s hour equals the same time dollar as the laborer�s. Unlike a barter economy of traded favors � the auto mechanic tunes up the car of the plumber who then fixes the mechanic�s leaky sink � time bank members pay it forward.

Unlike a traditional bank, time banks regularly schedule social events and, in more diverse communities, build bridges across racial and ethnic divides. For example, the Lynn Time Bank is an outgrowth of a support group for parents of children with mental retardation and other developmental delays, and the Cambridge group is an outgrowth of one for parents of children with mental illness.

Time banks offer people of limited means a way to ��purchase�� conveniences � even luxuries � usually reserved for the more affluent. Lynn Time Bank members can find entertainment from a mime, help organizing closets, assistance with grocery shopping, pet sitting, and rides to the doctor.

Some see time banks as a way to help the elderly stay in their homes, with younger residents, for instance, offering home repair and snow shoveling and older residents offering themselves as surrogate grandparents. The first time bank in Massachusetts, founded in 1987 at Kit Clark Senior Services in Dorchester, was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help the elderly.

Dr. Edgar S. Cahn is creator of Time Dollars and the founder of TimeBanks USA, as well as the co-founder of the National Legal Services Program and the Antioch School of Law. He is the author of No More Throw Away People: The Co-Production Imperative, Time Dollars, Our Brother's Keeper: The Indian in White America, and Hunger USA.

Cahn�s philosophy is five-pointed: Every individual is an asset, some work is beyond price, helping works better as a two-way street, we need each other, and every human being matters.

For more information on time banks go to www.timebanks.org.


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