Timebanking Rich in Possibilities
-- Michelle Strutzenberger

Sometimes the significance of a happening revisits you much later. When, several years ago, I found myself in a carload of folks that included pioneer of timebanking, Edgar Cahn, I felt very honoured but certainly didn’t imagine what might emanate from that.

Mr. Cahn spoke the whole car-ride, from a downtown Cincinnati building where a group of more than 200 of us from different parts of the world had gathered on the subject of community building to a just-over-the-border neighbourhood in Covington, Kentucky to which we as strangers to the area had been graciously invited for a social evening.

More than his exact words, I remember being deeply affected by Mr. Cahn’s profound dedication to the concept of timebanking, the evidence of years of thought poured into what could be called a community-building tool evident in every word of his.

We went on to the warm, welcoming house in Covington where barbecued burgers, fresh salads, laughter and appreciative people made for a wonderful experience. (That’s where I heard some delightful stories about how some of these good folks are doing things to build real — as opposed to paid — community around people who have an intellectual disability — by focusing on that person’s passions and skills. But more on that another time).

Fast forward a couple years. The evidence of a new, emerging story centred on renewed connectedness to personal intention, local community and place is bubbling. That story is most real to me when I hear its themes manifesting in the lives of people I’ve met in my hometown — like Carlotta James, who has quit her job that requires commuting two hours each day so she can focus on being more connected to her local community.

I also catch exciting glimpses of this new story through the things I hear that people are doing in other places — like hosting local-government sanctioned neighbourhood conversations in a town in Belgium.

And then, in one week, the idea of timebanking resurfaces in two different conversations.

One, a local conversation on enlivening the art of neighbouring, brings up a timebank in Ontario called NeighbourLink. The woman telling the story recalls how her stove needed fixing but she was at a point in her life of being unable to afford the repairs. So she contacted the timebank which connected her with a repair person who had chosen repair skills as his investment. She was the one who put out the question, “What if Peterborough were to create a timebank?”

The Abundant Community teleconference this week, hosted by author John McKnight, featured a small community called Philippi, West Virginia that has also introduced a timebank. I was especially energized to hear how at-risk youth are being encouraged to consider the gifts and skills they might invest in their community. One anecdote highlighted a youth who’s skilled in driving big trucks and equipment. He was asked if he might teach a community leader how to drive a manual-drive truck. “If you can get them (the youth) to a place where they’re a teacher, rather than a problem, then they’re on the road to recovery,” says Ruston Seaman, a champion of the timebank in Philippi.

Timebanks have been established in 34 countries, with at least 300 timebanks in 40 U.S. states and 300 throughout the United Kingdom. Some include 15-20 members; some up to 2,000, according to the TimeBanks USA website.

Perhaps the single greatest contribution of timebanking is that it provides a structure for mobilizing people to use their assets and gifts for the common, local good.

As this larger story of connection to intention, local community and place continues to unfold, timebanking seems like another tool rich in possibilities for enabling that connection.

I feel more strongly than ever that that conversation with Mr. Cahn will drop down into real change in my life, place, neighbourhood yet.

To learn more about timebanking, visit timebanks.org.