As the months and years roll by, life gets increasingly more busy, leaving us little time or energy to deal with all the tasks on our to-do lists. A new effort in Essex County seeks to give busy people a helping hand in getting things done—while modeling a new, human-friendly kind of economy.
The Essex Time Exchange, based in Maplewood, is a time bank that allows people to swap talents and time to give and receive assistance for a wide variety of tasks, including computer programming, household chores, shopping, yard work, tutoring and more.
The notion of exchanging time for services or goods dates back to the early cooperative movement in California in the 1930s, said Exchange President and Coordinator Mathilde Benveniste. She said the name "time bank" appeared in the early 1970s when women in St. Louis, Mo., formed the Neighbor to Neighbor Service Exchange.
Benveniste said an estimated 200,000 people in 34 countries over six continents are members of time banks.
She said the idea came to Essex County via the local Ethical Culture Society.
Martha Gallahue, leader of the society and a co-founder of the Essex Time Exchange with Benveniste, Jacqueline Herships and Lisa Novemsky, picked up the story.
"When [National Public Radio journalist] David Brancaccio came to the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County to speak at a platform in September 2011, he was making a film with Mary Olive Smith on the failures and fallacies of our economic system," Gallahue recalled. "He was illustrating what folks across the country were doing to fix it and making a film about that called 'Fixing the Future.' He was advocating for the need to shift the focus from financial capital to social capital.
"As I am the leader in the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County, an idealistic progressive community that believes in advocating for the evolution of the common good, his platform recalled for me the time when I joined a Women's Time Exchange in the upper west side in Manhattan in the early 1990s," she continued.
"This bank was working to make women's lives better, particularly those women whose retirement incomes were low—[but] they were educated, skilled and wanting to promote community building through the bank."
Looking at her experiences in the Women's Time Exchange, Gallahue, Novemsky, Herships and Benveniste determined such an organization would be valuable locally. "I was so moved by David's talk at the Ethical Culture Society that I thought maybe we could start a bank here," she said.
"We had meetings every other Sunday to build momentum. Early on in the process, Mathilde [and] Lisa developed the technical expertise to actually make it happen and to them the bank owes its existence. It was a team effort based upon the passion [we feel for] working together to change a broken system."
The Ethical Culture Society of Essex County has endorsed the bank "as an ethical initiative that deserves to proliferate in our community." The Essex Time Exchange operates similarly to a financial bank, explained Benveniste, who serves as the Exchange's coordinator and president. "The time one spends providing services for other members earns you 'time credit' or 'time dollars,'" she told Patch. "You can use the credits you earn to receive services from fellow time bank members."
Every hour one person donates is equivalent to one time credit or dollar, she said, noting that time dollars are earned for providing services and are spent by receiving services. "The Time Exchange allows members to list the services they need and the services they can provide," she said. "They advertise their services in our Offers List. Any member who needs their service can contact them."
If a desired service isn't on the list, there is a Request List where members can describe what they need, and anyone willing and able to provide the service can contact them.
Benveniste added that in most cases, a member who performs a service for one member likely receives an equivalent service from some other member, and she said banked credits don't have to be spent right away. "It is like a bank," she said, explaining that the group keeps an online ledger so that members know how much time they have in the bank. "They can save the credits and spend them when they need to."
And if a member is running a low account balance, she said, he or she could increase that balance by advertising in the Offers List or by checking the Requests List for services they can perform. Conversely, a member with a high balance would advertise in the Requests List services they could use, or check the Offers List. The credit method also governs how the effort is operated. Benveniste said members receive credits for the time they spend doing services to help run and maintain the Time Exchange. "That keeps our overhead low," she said. "We don't require a lot in terms of money."
She added that members, who come from Essex and the nearby counties of Bergen, Hudson, Morris, Passaic and Union, may donate their credits to support community efforts as well. The group also offers a social component for members: The Exchange held a potluck supper and concert for members on May 19 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. In Time Exchange fashion, the performers were members of the club.
The aforementioned Mary Olive Smith, a Maplewood resident and Emmy Award-winning documentary director, and her composer husband, Danny Weiss, played and sang a set of bluegrass and country-music songs. Right now, the group has 61 members, and Benveniste said new applicants are always welcome. And those currently enrolled sing the Exchange's praises.
"For me, the exchange is about ushering in a new, heart-centered, community-based economy which focuses on service, giving and receiving in balance," said member Rita Desnoyers-Garcia, who resides in South Orange and gives time for energy work, coaching and energy reading. "It allows us to see that we all have something to give and receive in our community." Desnoyers-Garcia noted that she has a request listed on the Exchange for help weeding her garden.
Co-founder Herships, a South Orange writer and publicist, noted that she finds the social aspect of the group very important. "The Time Exchange is not only about services, it's about community building," she said. "People meeting people. Neighbors meeting neighbors. We've already held several potluck dinners which have been a great deal of fun, and I anticipate more and different social events to come as our numbers grow."
"I have found value beyond that of financial gain or services received," said doula and birthing specialist Jen Kowal of Montclair. "I have grown to better appreciate the gifts we all bring to the table and how making those gifts available to others encourages a richness and depth to my community. "My life is enriched by being a member of the Time Exchange."
Those wishing to apply for membership in the Essex County Time Exchange can do so via the group's website. You'll need to provide two references and list some services you can offer. Once an application is accepted, new members must attend an orientation session and pay a yearly donation of $10 or offer two hours of service.