Categorized | Features

Swapping skills, time for community spirit

Man, retired, outdoors

By Brian Goslow

Former business owner Jan Innes, 67, of Cambridge, is a strong believer in the power of community. Disabled for the past 17 years, she lives in a cohousing community and has been a member of the Time Trade Circle for several years.

“Through Time Trade I’ve been able to receive rides to places I’m not able to drive, help with projects around my home that I cannot physically handle and, most important and wonderful, a steady supply of very healthy and delicious home-cooked food which I could not prepare myself,” Innes said. “This keeps me eating very healthily at minimal cost — a blessing for a very tight budget.”

Time Trade Circle, which has over 900 members in the Metro Boston area, is part of a rapidly expanding network of locally-based organizations in which members earn trade dollars with their specific skills; in turn, those dollars can be exchanged for the services of another member.

It is a concept that also addresses some of the special needs of older community members.

Innes earns trade hours by co-administrating a Time Trade Circle subgroup and, to her great surprise, by mending people’s clothes. “I had no idea so many people have so many piles of things to be mended that they’ve never gotten around to,” she said.

The national TimeBanks movement started in 1995. With a central office in Washington, D.C., its stated mission is to promote equality and build community economies through the exchange of time and talent, declaring, “Work has to be redefined to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, revitalize neighborhoods, make democracy work, advance social justice, make the planet sustainable. That kind of work needs to be honored, recorded and rewarded.”

There are currently 11 TimeBanks in Massachusetts: Valley Time Trade (Northampton), Co-Act of Berkshire County (Stockbridge), Cape Ann (Gloucester), BackBone Community (Boston), North Quabbin (Orange), Time Trade (Cambridge), Cape Cod (Harwich), Kiwanis Sharing Network (Marshfield), Worcester Time Trade, Foxwulf (Wales) and Salem.

Time Trade Worcester began as a graduate-level Clark University class project in 2011 that investigated how communities could support people economically when times are tough, as they are today.

“It’s a good group that attracts people who like the idea of meeting new people in the community and learning new things from people,” said organizer Aria DiSalvo, 25. “It allows them to be better connected to the city and the things people in the city can do.”

Younger Worcester members tend to offer more difficult physical tasks such as shoveling snow and yard work.

“The older folks have loads of knowledge about a variety of subjects; what they know is a gift,” DiSalvo said. “Some have math skills they learned from before computers were widely used. Alice, a 71-year-old Worcester member, knows lots about health and to be able to tap into what she knows is cool. We have guys over 50 who work on bikes who are able to guide and teach people about bikes.”

Other Worcester Time Trade members offer computer training, tutoring or just give other members’ children someone to talk to while their parents are busy. A Time Trade member who also volunteers at the Center for Nonviolent Solutions provides family mediation services.Worcester Time Trade has 124 members; their average age is in the mid-40s, with quite a few over 50.

Nancy Goodwin, 59, of Rockport, co-founded the Cape Ann TimeBank in 2006 with a local restaurateur who had been a large donor to the national office and played a key role in the development of the software program that allows member organizations to easily keep track of trade hours.

The concept was to mimic the Girl Scouts and have a national headquarters, but a very localized operation with a chapter in every town, Goodwin said. “I’ve been a long time community activist and always want to find ways to build community,” she added. “The time bank seemed like a very good way to do that.”

The Cape Ann TimeBank has been there for people in their biggest time of need. It has helped a couple in their 70s battling health challenges, brought meals to a woman in her 50s immobilized for an extended period of time while she recovered from foot surgery (she earned hours stuffing TimeBank envelopes) and provided company and cleaning services for North Shore Health Project clients.

“One of our very popular requests is getting a ride to the airport,” Goodwin said, “and there’s a couple that lives out on the edge of the marsh and the guy lets people use his kayak or takes people out kayaking in this pristine marsh.” An older TimeBank member owns puppets from around the world and uses them in one-hour puppet shows intended to expose audiences to cultural diversity.

Mort Rubin, 90, said he enjoys doing small jobs just to keep busy and healthy. “I’m one of the lucky ones who is a member of TimeBanks out of choice,” he said. “That said, I know many instances where the give and take between members makes the quality of life reachable in spite of the dollar cost otherwise.”

Goodwin said Rubin is an amazing, old school, can-fix-almost-anything kind of guy. “He can put together kits of things,” she said. “We bought a compost tumbler and were totally baffled by how to put it together. He was, ‘You just jiggle this thing here, adjust this here and screw it together and you’re in business.’ He’s done that with several things that were broken.”

Joan “Jody” Shirley, 75, of Rockport, tutors, dog sits, does calligraphy and writes for the Cape Ann TimeBank website to earn her trade hours. “She’ll take a photograph and has some software that can kind of convert it to a pen and ink drawing,” Goodwin said. “She’s making some greeting cards for me to use in my job. I could not do that; I’m not artistic.”

In return, Shirley said, “TimeBankers have helped me organize my apartment, given me rides to shop, shared a vehicle, and contribute a lot to my ability to continue to live here on a tiny fixed income.”

Shirley has also found the social aspect beneficial. “TimeBank is a good way to find a place in the community,” she said. “The company is welcome and I’ve met a lot of people I might not have met otherwise.”

Goodwin said it’s common for new TimeBank members to be people who’ve recently moved to the Cape Ann region. The TimeBank strives to attract members of all ages so that there’s a supportive balance of younger folk able to do more laborious chores with those with long lifetimes of knowledge to share.

“We’re trying to not be a group just for elders,” she said. “We want to be diverse and represent the community’s different age groups, partly because different people of different ages are able to provide different kinds of services. The older people need help with physical kinds of labor but in trade have other skills to offer: language skills, phoning or (providing acts of) kindness.”

Christie Wight, 60, recently moved to Rockport, in part due to a chance meeting with Cape Ann TimeBank members at the Gloucester Farmers’ Market. “From that point on, I felt I could be friends with the woman whom I talked with.”

Wight wanted to live near the seacoast in a community that allows for single adults to participate in a non-traditional fashion on a day-to-day basis where they were valued for the skills they had to offer. She’s found that, thanks to the Cape Ann TimeBank. “You’re encouraged to offer what you really like to do because then, your value will be mutual. You get something from it and they get something from it.”

Her first official TimeBank experience was attending one of its monthly potluck get-togethers. “There were 30 people there, which was a surprise, even for them,” Wight said. “A potluck is a group of people where some know each other and some don’t. We each took two or three minutes to describe the services we were offering.”

In Wight’s instance, those services include animal care — she’s looked after birds, cats and dogs — and yoga therapy sessions. “I’m a retired yoga teacher,” she explained. “I assist people in yoga poses. It’s a wonderful modality for and supporting them in being in touch with their bodies.” She said some folks feel they don’t have anything to give in return for services they receive. “TimeBanks help change that way of thinking by giving an equal value to any service provided that’s a help to another member,” Wight said. Earlier this spring, a lawyer provided advice and assistance to one member while she provided cleaning services for him.

While services are given equal weight for time given, members are allowed to charge for fuel needed for an extended ride or ingredients that went into a meal.

Being a stranger in a strange town, Wight has benefited from becoming part of a bigger whole. “I’ve gone from being a pretty isolated individual, which is the unhealthiest thing you can possibly experience, to thriving in a new community and I’ve hardly gotten off the ground yet,” she said. “The social aspect is enormous.”

For more information:; for contact information on a TimeBank near you, visit


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