Development, Giving Back

Time to help others in Detroit? There’s a bank for that

I have lived in the city of Detroit for the better part of a decade, but there are things about my hometown of Vermontville I really miss.

There is nothing like the smell of the sap of a maple tree being boiled down to a glorious syrup on a chilly March afternoon. Try as I might, I have never been able to recreate the neighborliness of that mid-Michigan town.

Miles of chain link fences, years of feeling like it is not safe to go outside and too many broken promises of help has left many residents of Detroit feeling isolated and alone within the wall of their own homes.  For someone just moving into the city, it can be hard to meet your neighbors, especially when you clearly do not look like anyone else in the neighborhood.

That’s why I am so fascinated by the Unity In Our Community TimeBank of Southwest Detroit. They give people a reason to give and receive help while meeting their neighbors.  This particular effort is a merger of the Chadsey-Condon timebank Bridging Communities started to help home bound elders and a timebank started in Hubbard Farms by neighbors looking for a low cost way to help each other.

Jennie Weakley is the timebank coordinator for Bridging Communities, the sponsor of the Unity In Our Community TimeBank.  In many ways, it is run much like a bank, except the currency being traded is time instead of money.

“The whole thing is based on reciprocity, it is as much about getting as it is giving,” she says.  “What this is about is taking the dollar out of the equation.  It’s all an hour for an hour so every one’s time is worth the same.  No matter what your skill is,you are as valuable to the community as anybody else.”

The timebank is a formal organization with Bridging Communities as the financial sponsor.  Participants in the Unity In Our Community Timebank  are invited to monthly “Kitchen Cabinet” meetings, which is the steering committee.  This is where rules for participation are decided and it is where people come to meet other members of their community.

Members of the timebank range in age from eight to 81.  The eight-year-old is active during the Kitchen Cabinet meetings. The 81-year-old  is home bound so he earns hours by opening his home to tours of the neighborhood Bridging Communities serves to tell people about the good work the organization does.  He was also an active part of telling the story of why this is important to a few foundations this year.

Other ways people bank hours are by providing transportation to grocery stores or doctor appointments, cleaning yards, shoveling snow, teaching computer skills and weatherization.  Surprisingly cooking is a big way people bank hours.  Weakley works a lot of hours. As a member of the Hubbard Farms timebank before the merger, she found herself using hours banked from providing transportation to have food cooked for office potlucks.

“I’ve used it.  As someone who works a lot of hours, I don’t have time to make food for a potluck,” she says.  In fact, the last time I had coffee at Cafe Con Leche with Weakley, she was having someone cook food for an office retirement party later that day.

Hours are tracked online, so people without computers are partnered with “Computer Buddies” to make sure they are giving and receiving the proper number of hours.  This also leads to a challenge particular to Southwest Detroit,… the software is only in English.  Bridging Communities had an Arabic speaker on staff, which helped their efforts to reach out to the growing Arabic community.  So far, they need someone who speaks Spanish to get the timebank further into the Hispanic community.

Regardless of challenges, more than 800 hours were exchanged in the Chadsey Condon Timebank before the merger, which is enough to convince me this is an idea the community is ready to embrace.  I hope I can keep writing more blog posts about timebanks successfully sprouting up all over Detroit soon.

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