This fall, a collaborative effort by Mercer Island Youth & Family Services (MIYFS), the Transition Initiative (TIMI), and other Island residents will launch a Timebank for Mercer Island. A Timebank is a currency of skills (exchange) that enhances and builds community connections while allowing members of the community to provide for some of their own needs. The goal of this project is to enrich our Island community from within by increasing social and economic resiliency.
Timebanking is a way to exchange services without using the cash economy. For every hour you spend doing something for someone else, you earn a credit. You can then exchange your credit for someone spending an hour doing something for you. For instance, you might give guitar lessons to one person and get help with computer software from someone else, who in turn receives house repair from someone else, and so on. All services are considered equal in the Timebank; one hour is always equal to any other hour. Anything you are willing to do can be offered, and anything you need can be requested. The IRS has consistently ruled that Timebanks are not commercial barter organizations, so time credits earned are not treated as taxable income.
Timebanking is rich with social and economic benefits. When people interact and share in each other’s well-being, a mutual community investment develops. Today, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. Many people simply do not have the disposable cash income to invest in nonessential services. For those, Timebanking can provide direct budget relief. In addition, and indeed for all who invest in Timebanking, it helps build the types of bridges that strengthen personal relationships and strengthen the weave of the social fabric.
Because exchanges in the Timebank are usually circular, rather than back and forth between the same two members, a strong coordination system is important. Such a system will be in place for the launch of the Mercer Island Timebank in the form of an online software and database system that tracks Timebank accounts for each member. The software also facilitates members connecting with others who have services that they would like to give or receive.
After 25 years of experimentation, learning and expansion, the United States now has over 300 registered Timebanks. The smallest has 15 members; the largest has 3,000. At present, Timebanks have enrolled around 30,000 members in the United States, the same number in the United Kingdom, and an additional 100,000 scattered across 34 countries.
Regionally, the cities of Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue already have their own Eastside Timebank (http://eastsidetimebank.org) with over 100 members. To assist the Mercer Island Timebank, the Eastside Timebank stands ready to help by providing background checks, insurance and technical assistance. The launch of the MI Timebank this autumn has generated excitement in Islanders of all ages and backgrounds, much as it has in thousands of people worldwide. Watch for additional information about the launch over the summer and sign up. In addition to getting a helping hand, help around your house, or learning a new hobby, Timebanking will build healthy relationships and support a strong community on Mercer Island.
Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services.