Neighbors Exchange Time to Help Neighbors

Doris Rahmig, Donna Andrews and Tamsen Spangler staffed the West Seattle Timebank's Summerfest booth last month.

Dean Peloquin is just starting to offer yoga classes so it was a natural he would travel to one client's home and another client's office to give personalized lessons. But he wasn't given money for either class. Nor was he reimbursed in cash for the six to eight hours he spent cleaning and painting the basements of two homes.

He was paid back when an expert came to his house to devise a gardening plan for Dean's yard. Another expert advised Dean on native trees and plants he could plant that use less water.

Dean was time banking through the West Seattle Timebank.

West Seattle Timebank volunteers spread the word to neighbors at West Seattle's recent Summerfest celebration.

A timebank is neighbors exchanging time to help neighbors. At its most basic level, time banking is simply about spending an hour doing something for somebody in your community. That hour goes into your Timebank account as one credit hour. You then have a credit hour to spend on having someone else do something for you. Unlike bartering, all hours are valued equally.

Dean thinks the timebank is "a great idea." "It's a good way to get to know other people in the community and share skills without being part of the money economy," Dean declared.

A volunteer committee of five West Seattle residents who had attended a Senior Services "Aging Your Way" conference in 2012 started the West Seattle Timebank (WSTB). At the conference, the idea for a "skills bank" was identified as a high community need. The committee had heard about USA Timebank and felt a Timebank would fill this need.

The Timebank model is a perfect example of a "skills bank." Knowing the community already sees this as a need reinforced the desire to build a Timebanking resource in the community. Timebanking helps build community-based and community-owned systems, approaches and activities that ensure success for committed youth, adults and elders—regardless of age and mindful of the importance of relationships for everyone.

The WSTB builds relationships of support, caring and trust and sustainability in the neighborhood. The Timebank increases the ability of members to obtain needed services that they could not afford or perform themselves while gaining satisfaction from helping others. This contributes to increasing the quality of life in our community and creating a better society.

After a year and a half of planning, the WSTB launched on July 12, 2013 at the West Seattle Summerfest event, in partnership with Sustainable West Seattle.

Randy Carnahan offers gift wrapping, moving boxes, and help with packing and cooking through the West Seattle Timebank.

Significant unmet start-up needs for the WSTB were a web presence and the tools necessary to recruit members. To assist with this, the Timebank was awarded $500 by Sustainable West Seattle's Green Incubator Grant Program.

Once the website presence was obtained the WSTB began getting the word out to the community. The Steering Committee has held informational presentations for local community groups and businesses.

One of the most valued outreach efforts has been the support of the West Seattle Blog and the West Seattle Herald. They posted announcements of the timebank's monthly potluck member meetings and new member orientations.

The members meetings are a time for members to meet each other, exchange their challenges navigating the members' database, help each other decide how to post their requests and offers and discuss what is working and not working for them. The meeting is also a time to bring a neighbor or friend to check out the Timebanking experience.

The WSTB now has 109 members and is growing every month. It is expanding into the Burien and White Center area.

"Learning to help neighbors in this system is very positive," noted Burien resident Randie Carnahan, who is very active in the timebank. She earned 15 hours of credit helping a woman getting ready to move, including assisting at a garage sale and with packing. Randie has also done ironing, entering data into the timebank's computer system and passing out information at a street fair. In return, she has received help with her garden. "It needed a lot of TLC," Randie explained.

The WSTB has been operating with a volunteer steering committee. There are no member fees so consequently all of the materials needed for outreach and events have been through donations or personal expense. This has been a challenge; therefore, the WSTB has applied for grants to facilitate expansion and sustainability. It has become apparent that a paid part-time site coordinator is needed. The Timebank has been able to maintain the core administrative needs with the assistance of Senior Services as their sponsor and database assistance.

Click on the photo above to watch a short video featuring West Seattle Timebank member Karen Chilcutt (with the Timebank's mascot, Sofie).

Having a community web-based system to track the members' exchanges and connect the capabilities and needs of our neighbors is the essence of sustainability and increasing community resilience.

The WSTB is now expanding its member base by forming partnerships with local community businesses. The Senior Center of West Seattle, Boulevard Park Place and Balloons and Cupcakes provide meeting space in exchange for Timebank hours. These hours can be used when they are in need of volunteer assistance with special projects or events.

Sustainable West Seattle, Environmental Stewards, West Seattle Be Prepared and the Delridge Grocery Co-op are partnering with the Timebank. These collaborations will connect volunteers to share unique skills sets across generational and cultural backgrounds. They all can contribute time, energies, skills and resources.

Having a community resource, such as a Timebank, to connect the capabilities and needs of our neighbors is the essence of sustainability and increasing community resilience.

As community connections are made and strengthened, we can expect to see results similar to those reported in studies of existing Timebanks. Those include strengthening fragile families, enhancing health outcomes and rebuilding a sense of involvement for the elderly, youth and families in our community.

Timebanking reveals the breadth of a community's ability to support one another. Timebanks have demonstrated for a quarter of a century that every one of us has something special to give to others in our community. Timebanking has proven capable of harnessing untapped community capacity that the market does not value to address vast unmet needs.

All folks interested in joining with others to exchange services are welcome to join. There is no membership fee. Parent or guardian approval is required for those under 18 years of age. All members are required to attend an orientation, complete an application, which contains two personal references, show photo identification and sign a form allowing a Washington State Criminal Background check to be performed. Our fiscal sponsor, Senior Services, will do background checks.

For more information about timebanking, call Tamsen (206-261-3586) or Grace (206-795-5783) or e-mail

West Seattle Timebank volunteers Tamsen Spengler and Eric Mathison contributed to this article. Spengler retired from Aging and Disability Services last year and currently chairs the West Seattle Timebank steering committee. Mathison is a former editor of the Highline Times in Burien.

There are over 300 Timebanks in the USA. All aspire to the five core principles of timebanking, as outlined by the Timebanks USA founder, Dr. Edgar Cahn:

  1. Asset: Everyone is an asset; society's real wealth is its people.
  2. Redefining Work: Some work is beyond price. Work has to be redefined to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, revitalize neighborhoods, advance social justice and make the planet sustainable. That kind of work needs to be honored, recorded and rewarded.
  3. Reciprocity: Helping works better as a two-way street. The question: "How can I help you?" needs to change so we ask: "How can we help each other build the world we both will live in?"
  4. Social networks: Networks are stronger than individuals. People helping each other reweave communities of support, strength and trust. Special relationships are built on commitment.
  5. Respect: Every human being matters. Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. We must respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.