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Home » News, Past Cover Stories, Student Stories

Time is money: Worcester Time Trade builds service exchange network

Submitted by on June 17, 2011 – 11:31 pmNo Comment

Caption: Ben Cummings volunteers at Nuestro Puerto, a vegetable garden on Southgate St. He can count those hours as time trade currency or receive a discount on produce from the garden. (Photo by Jen Cantin)

Ben Cummings volunteers at Nuestro Huerto, a vegetable garden on Southgate St. He can count those hours as time trade currency or receive a discount on produce from the garden. (Photo by Jen Cantin)

By Jen Cantin

Recently graduated Clark masters student Adrienne LaPierre has a different view of the economy than most. In fact, she has a different economy altogether, one with no inflation and a currency of which you already receive 24 units each day. It’s an economy of hours.

LaPierre initiated the Worcester Time Trade in January with other core members primarily recruited through the Go-List community listserv. Their enrollment has reached about 50 so far. They have been following examples in Northampton, Lynn, Cape Ann and Cambridge to organize a network of individuals who bank hours of service they perform for other members and redeem those hours by receiving a service of an equal duration from another member of the group.

First, members create an online profile in which they list services they are able to provide. These can be everyday tasks such as house cleaning or dog walking or more specialized skills such as yoga instruction or cabinet installation. Other members request services they need, and individual members interact from there to obtain the service and deduct the amount of time it took from their previous amount of credits earned. The currency of a time trade operates in hours rounded to the nearest quarter of an hour. One hour equals one unit of currency, 15 minutes equals .25 units, etc.

To reduce people’s initial skepticism toward entrusting more specialized skills to a non-professional stranger, the group organizes social events to encourage contact before a trade. Additionally, they have a member from the Cambridge time trade looking over their membership policies to ensure they are covered for liabilities.

Althea Chen uses time credits to receive personal training from Irene McGarrity twice a week at Beaver Brook Park.  Althea earns credits by offering web design and house-cleaning services, while Irene hopes to use her credits to improve her Spanish by connecting with a conversation partner. (Photo courtesy of Adrienne LaPierre)

Althea Chen uses time credits to receive personal training from Irene McGarrity twice a week at Beaver Brook Park. Althea earns credits by offering web design and house-cleaning services, while Irene hopes to use her credits to improve her Spanish by connecting with a conversation partner. (Photo courtesy of Adrienne LaPierre)

“Ultimately, we’re not seeing how well they can repair your fence or whatever,” LaPierre says. “We try and make it clear that it’s really up to each individual participant to make sure that they’re comfortable, to make sure they’re clear about their expectations. So if they’re looking for professional-grade work, the person they’ve hired can say ‘oh, you know what, that’s actually beyond my expertise,’ or that ‘I can provide references that justify that I am actually a house painter’ or whatever.”

The group emphasizes that it is completely fine to go into “debt” and that becoming “rich” in credits is not the goal.

“I think it’s important to note that the real value is in the exchange, not in accumulating credits,” says LaPierre. “It’s seeing those credits move throughout the community.”

Member Amanda Barker notes that many people already practice reciprocity and arrange informal time trades among friends and neighbors. The time trade itself acts as a link between existing networks of families, neighborhoods and ethnic groups to ultimately offer a wider variety of services to everyone and a larger and strengthened community.

“Worcester already has this network in place,” says member Shreena Bindra. “As opposed to having the community be disparate and having to make those connections one by one.”

Though the Worcester Time Trade often uses the Northampton organization as an example, they account for Worcester’s more diverse population by looking to the one in Lynn.

“They’re working with a much more disadvantaged population and a much more diverse population [than Northampton],” says LaPierre. “So tapping into what they’re doing, they use individuals as kind of contact people for either people who have language barriers or people who need extra assistance, and I think that’s what we’d be looking to do. Also reaching out to particular organizations that serve particular populations.”

The group recognizes that while money often eludes us, time can sometimes seem equally unattainable.

“That’s definitely a barrier against getting people involved,” says LaPierre. “You know, they think ‘time, that’s the one thing I need.’ But what’s interesting about the time trade is that it can actual free up your time. If you have someone taking care of the shopping for you or who can give you a ride rather than taking the bus to your appointment or, you know, who can watch your kids for a few hours, it actually frees up time.”

Shreena Bindra teaching Joe Scully how to ballroom dance in Elm Park as part of the time trade. (Photo by Jen Cantin)

Shreena Bindra teaching Joe Scully how to ballroom dance in Elm Park as part of the time trade. (Photo by Jen Cantin)

And this exchange improves quality of life, LaPierre says, in having the time to do what you love rather than only what you get paid to do or feel obligated to do. The organization emphasizes the value in activities we love or in simple tasks we are able to do that sometimes gets overlooked.

“I remember when I first joined I had no idea, I was like ‘what can I do?’” says Bindra. “Because you define yourself sometimes in what you do for a living. So now I’m offering dance lessons, there’s a woman who’s offering massages, you know, kickboxing lessons; there’s really a lot on there.”

Some of the most common offerings are for language assistance, transportation, sewing and child care, but more unique opportunities often arise. Member Aria DiSalvo “purchased” an olive tree someone had grown for a few years through the time trade.

“Even just being a partner for someone,” says DiSalvo, “or, you know, just a comfort. I think there was one person who just wanted someone like a social partner for the holidays.”

“And that’s really valuable and that’s something tangible,” says Bindra. “Trading these things is very human, very loving, very tangible. It’s a care network of sorts.”

In the future, Worcester Time Trade hopes to partner with several organizations. DiSalvo envisions working with the Holistic Mothers Network to give stay-at-home moms a chance to step out of their daily routine, while LaPierre would like to work with the ReStore, which collects secondhand furniture and home fixture that a time trade member could easily repair for functional use. Barker mentions the Dream Center, an organization that works with mentally-challenged adults who have skills that may currently be underutilized. They all agree that the options are endless.

Joining the time trade is free, but small donations are accepted to cover the cost of the software that supports their online network. People of all ages and abilities can join by visiting the website or e-mailing timetrade.worcester@gmail.com. Their next meeting will be on June 25 at a location to be decided, and they will present at the Green Solidarity Economy Conference at the Worcester Youth Center on July 23.

The next orientation will be on June 25 at 41 Freeland St., Unit 3, and they will be at the Green Solidarity Economy Conference at the Worcester Youth Center on July 23

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