You might already know this, but I just discovered that Ypsilanti now has a functioning time bank. (For those of you not familiar with the concept, that’s a system of reciprocal service exchange in which units of time serve as currency.) It’s called hOur Exchange Ypsilanti (hEY), and there’s a 1:30 orientation session Thursday, January 9, at Beezy’s. In hopes of finding out more, I reached out this evening to Heather Wysor and Lisa Bashert, two of the women responsible for for the system.
MARK: For the past half dozen years or so, if not more, Lisa, you’ve been pushing the idea forward that Ypsilanti needs a time bank, a kind of alternate currency through which people in the area can exchange goods and services without resorting to cash. I wasn’t aware, however, that, after years of trying to identify the right model, you’d actually launched something… What’s the status?
LISA: Actually, I’ve only been a minor player in the launch of hOur Exchange Ypsilanti. It’s true that I advocated for a local currency when I served on the Ypsi 2020 Task Force, but the people who got this time bank off the ground are Jeff Yoder, Julianne Bonta, Heather Wysor, Monica King, and Jen Whaley, among others.
MARK: So, what’s your role been?
LISA: I’ve been actively making time bank trades through the system since the fall, and I help out by doing orientations on the hEY software, like the one at 1:30 on Thursday at Beezy’s.
MARK: What will you be covering during the session?
LISA: In the Thursday orientation, we’ll give concrete examples, share an include an introductory slide show, and explain how the online software works. Then, hopefully, we’ll sign people up… If people want to read up beforehand, they can check out the website.
MARK: So, it’s software based? There isn’t a tangible currency?
LISA: We use a software from hOurworld, an established time bank in Maine. On the software, we list OFFERS (services we’re willing to do) and REQUESTS (things we’d like someone else to do for us). And, yes, there is no tangible currency.
HEATHER: It’s like a FIAT currency, in which money is created from nothing and the belief in it is the value. The currency itself is hours. Everyone’s hour is worth the same and traded over the software. You can trade the currency of hours with anyone who is activated in the system.
MARK: And what are the units called?
LISA: The units are called Time Bank Hours.
MARK: Not very catchy… Would you be open to changing it, if there were an awesome suggestion?
LISA: Yes, I’m sure the group would consider it.
MARK: OK, let’s say I sign up, and pay my annual $25 (real cash) membership fee, what happens next? Do I start out with a certain number of Time Bank Hours, or do I first have to find someone willing to purchase my goods/services through the system?
LISA: Members join the time bank, providing two references and paying the $25 annual fee. (Transactions and contact information are confidential.) Once you’re a member, you list your Offers, the services you’re willing to provide. In exchange for hours doing something you like, you can later get services for yourself. For example, say you have a big pile of laundry to fold but would rather be reading. Request that a member come and fold while you enjoy your book. Perhaps you love shoveling snow. You can offer that service to other members. Just by joining you receive two Time Bank Hours to “spend,” and you accumulate more hours each time you perform a service for others… You can also waive the $25 annual fee by offering four hours of service to the administration of the time bank… this could be copying and folding brochures, fliering, offering orientations, holding a potluck, etc.
HEATHER: There are a few things that we need in order to activate a new person in the system… First, we need everyone to fill out the online application. Second, we need two personal references that will be checked by phone or e-mail. (This is part of the online application.) Third, as you mentioned, there’s an annual donation of $25. (This requirement can also be satisfied by working on administrative tasks for four hours, as Lisa mentions.) And, fourth, you need to participate in an orientation session, like the one on Thursday, which will give you an opportunity to learn more about the logistics and ask any questions you might have… Once these requirements are met, you can be activated into the hOur World software and start trading.
MARK: Is it literally “hours,” as in you earn as many Time Bank Hours as it takes you real hours to you to perform a given task… For instance, if I rake leaves three hours, I’d earn three Time Bank Hours? Or do people agree to an amount beforehand, like “I’ll rake your leaves for two Time Bank Hours?”
LISA: You can do it either way. I was repairing someone’s leggings and the first pass didn’t turn out looking so good. So I re-did the repair and only charged a half-hour because it was my mistake.
MARK: So, is this primarily for services, or would goods work as well? For instance, what if I bake awesome pies?
LISA: I do bake awesome pies and I’d be willing to trade them for hours. I also offer salves, vinegars, vinegar mother, sourdough culture or bread, infused honey, charcuterie (smoked, salted, cured grassfed meats), tinctures, sweetgrass braids, smudges & other handmade items. Usually, I negotiate the “cost” ahead of time, like I usually accept one Time Bank Hour for a jar of infused honey, for example, or a ½ hour for an incense smudge. If the person doesn’t want to pay that, that’s OK, but the trade most likely won’t happen.
MARK: Tell me about the time bank trades you’ve been making… What have you been using the system for?
LISA: I do sewing and darning. I trade artisan foods for hours. I’ve mended backpacks and adjusted dog coats. And I’ve been doing skills workshops through Abundant Michigan Permaculture Ypsi (AMPY). On the other end, I’ve received laundry services, had someone rake my yard, got my pocket door fixed, had my washing machine diagnosed, had my front door lock repaired, etc. And, I’m regularly paying my house cleaner with hours through hEY. You can post pictures along with your Offers and I do that so that people have a visual for what I’m offering.
MARK: When did the system get off the ground, and how many users are there as of right now?
LISA: It began in April 2013, and was fully was up and running by September…
HEATHER: And, as of right now, we now have 50 active members.
MARK: What kinds of goods and services are presently available through the system?
LISA: Kinds of goods and services range from household help, cooking, repairs, laundry, Spanish lessons, photography, dog training, interpretation, gardening, even mah-jongg!
MARK: Are any local businesses involved yet? If not, are there plans to incorporate them?
HEATHER: No local business yet, but we plan to incorporate them soon.
LISA: Also, I know AMPY workshops earn time bank hours. And I believe there’s an effort afoot to have neighborhood association tasks also earn time bank hours. For example, if someone were organizing the ice cream social for the Normal Park Neighborhood Association, they could earn hours.
MARK: Is there a geographic boundary that people should be made aware of? Would people in Ann Arbor, for instance, be able to participate?
HEATHER: We’re trying to keep the boundaries as local as possible. We are an Ypsilanti-based organization. However, when we saw all the talented and motivated people from other cities that wanted to be involved, we knew we had to open it up. Some communication between the people who are trading services is needed. For example travel time and gas might have to be included. So, to answer your question, yes, we have been accepting applications from surrounding cities.
MARK: Why, in your opinion, is something like this important?
HEATHER: We love this kind of thing because it promotes helping the community. We all volunteer our time to our favorite organizations and community groups. The hOur Exchange could serve as an incentive to donate your time to the community. You could also earn hours for the time spent, that you can spend on things you need. Everyone has gained from the interaction. We are open to ideas on how and who to include in this model.
LISA: It’s important to DO WHAT YOU LOVE, right? But we can’t always get paid to do that – this way, we can. hEY stresses offering services that you love to do – so not only does it serve a purpose for others, but you get personal fulfillment, too. I also think it’s very important to fall in love with your place on the earth – your town – your river. This is hard to express, but, when you care about your place, you treat the place, and those who live there, more respectfully.
MARK: How do you see this evolving in the future? Do you have a long-term vision as to what this might lead to…
LISA: Greater investment in our community, more neighborliness, more caring. We are getting to know one another and rely on one another. It’s improving the resilience of our community – and it’s really great for low-income people. I could not afford to have household cleaning on my salary but with hEY, I can. When my washing machine broke, someone helped me do laundry until I figure out what to do. I love that the software tells you how far away the person who offers a service is. That means I can choose someone within walking or biking distance over someone I’d have to drive to.
HERE, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO STILL MIGHT NOT BE CLEAR ON THE CONCEPT, IS A CLIP ON TIME BANKING FROM PBS’S “FIXING THE FUTURE”: