Monday, January 18, 2010

Houston Heights Time Bank: Neighbors Helping Neighbors

There are a lot of taglines that encapsulate The Heights in my mind, such as:
  • The convenience of the city, the comfort of a neighborhood
  • Quirky and quaint
  • Neighbors helping neighbors
It's my belief in that last tagline that inspired me to start a time bank in our neighborhood when I moved here in 2008.

The Heights is a neighborhood where neighbors help neighbors. We certainly saw it in the impromptu barbecues following Hurricane Ike and in the extension cords stretching across streets to share power, but I also see it when my neighbor puts my trash can on the curb when I'm out of town or when another neighbor mows a piece of my lawn, since he's already doing his. We see it in more formal endeavors like the Anti-Graffiti Squad and the Heights Kids Group.

A time bank is another way to expand the network of neighbors helping neighbors. It's a time exchange system that builds community. For example, if you spend an hour doing something for a neighbor (like pet-sitting, small home repair, a guitar lesson, etc.), you earn a time dollar that you can then spend to get another neighbor to do something for you.

The system is similar to bartering, but everyone's time is worth the same. An hour is an hour is an hour, and you don't have to provide services for the same person that helped you. It's a network of sharing, which ensures that you can get what you need out of the exchange.

The Houston Heights Time Bank currently has 38 members who offer a wide range of services, including (but certainly not limited to!), rides to the airport, backyard chicken eggs, cooking, web database programming, babysitting, copy-editing, fitness buddies, house/yard work help, help with budgeting, and knitting lessons. The services include things that people do professionally, as well as things they do as hobbies.

All offers and requests are tracked by an online site. You can browse people's offers or set up a specific request. If there's a match, you can e-mail the other person within the system and it sends a notification to their regular e-mail account. You e-mail back and forth until the exchange is set-up, and both of you agree on the date, time, location, and total number of hours. After the exchange, you record the hours in the system, and the other person confirms them. If there are any disputes (which there haven't yet been), you can contact the Houston Heights time bank coordinator for support.

Time banking is an international movement with more than 300 time banks throughout the world. The Houston Heights Time Bank is specific to The Heights, in order to minimize the amount of driving that people have to do to provide or receive services. The boundaries are north of I-10, west of I-45, south of 610, and east of Shepherd.

Anyone interested in joining the time bank attends one of two monthly events: either a new member orientation or a monthly potluck. The next new member orientation is Sunday, February 7 @ 3pm, and the next monthly potluck is Friday, February 19 from 7-9pm. New members automatically receive 5 free Time Dollars for signing up.

The time bank got started last April, and since then, I have participated in a number of exchanges. I helped a woman organize her office, drove a couple to the airport for their honeymoon, and sewed someone a bed for their dog. I have received fresh chicken eggs, a home-cooked meal, and help hanging a rain gutter.

Time banking is an amazing way to meet new neighbors across The Heights and to get valuable services without opening our pocketbooks. Participating in the time bank is completely free to members, thanks to the sponsorship of the Brazilian Arts Foundation on 11th Street and Sew Crafty on 19th Street.

If you are interested in learning more about time banking, you can visit the website or e-mail me, the Heights Time Bank Coordinator, to RSVP for one of the upcoming events.

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