As family budgets get cut to the bone, an increasing number of people are trading a more meaningful commodity than money. Here's how the growing trend of time banking is helping folks in and around Brattleboro, Vt., become stronger and closer.
The Fixer: Randy Bright, 49
My dad was a handyman who taught me growing up that I could learn to fix or make anything, and I've never lost that. In 1998 I renovated my own house during nights and weekends off from my insurance job. But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, it felt important to make a difference in the world, so I got a job making homes more energy-efficient for low-income people. Just like that change, joining the Brattleboro Time Trade was about being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
When I joined, it was clear that handy people were in high demand. And, since I am divorced, I thought, Great, I'll meet single women! That hasn't panned out yet, but I have expanded my circle of friends. I've used some of my time-trade hours for home-cooked meals. It has aided me financially, too: I've developed a referral network that has helped get my own energy-efficiency business off the ground.
My private business keeps me busy, but I still do time trades, and I often donate the hours I earn. The trades give me something intangible that just makes me feel good. I especially like showing my daughter, Nora (who's 14 and often comes along to help out), that not every exchange is about money. One time, I got a call about a woman who was bed-ridden. Her daughter was out, and her wood stove was back-drafting carbon monoxide into her house. It was a simple fix, but had I not answered my phone and been there soon, she could have died. I didn't say anything to her at the time, but that experience really affected me. My seemingly small choices to help someone might not be a big deal to me, but they could have far-reaching—even life-changing—effects on others.
• Randy gives: Weatherization and insulation, energy audits, home repairs, car rides, yard work
• Randy gets: Home-cooked meals, business contacts, computer help, massage therapy
The Musician: Lissa Schneckenburger, 34
My husband, Corey DiMario, 36, and I are professional musicians. I sing and play the fiddle; Corey plays the double bass. We're on the road roughly 200 days a year with our 4-year-old son, Hunter, so the Brattleboro Time Trade helps us feel grounded in town. I give fiddle lessons—it's great for those who normally can't afford them. In return, we get a lot of help around the house and with Hunter.
Although time trading is a huge financial help, what I love most about it is the unexpected encounters I have with people, as well as the bonds they create. One time I helped an elderly lady remove a carpet from her stairs, and as we worked together she told me about her house, the people who built it in the early 1900s, her family history and her life. It was fascinating. Making connections with people I wouldn't otherwise have met is meaningful to me. I was already friendly with Amanda Witman through the local music community, and now I give her daughter Ellery fiddle lessons, and both of her girls baby-sit Hunter. One time Corey and I got a last-minute out-of-town gig, and we needed someone to watch Hunter. He loves Amanda, and she agreed to come along for the weekend. Although technically she was there to be with him while we played, she is a big music fan, and we spent most of the weekend together. She helped me out, and we had a great time in the process.
I see Amanda and her kids play music around town—at the farmers market and Irish fiddle sessions at a pub. It's a real community experience, and it's amazing to see Ellery gain the confidence to hop up with the group and try out techniques I've taught her. To me, time trading is a lot like music: It brings people together and creates a sense of community. What better way could there be to spend my time?
• Lissa gives: Fiddle lessons, baby-sitting, car rides, garden weeding
• Lissa gets: Yard work, plumbing, electrical work, housecleaning, landscape design, child care
The Connector: Abby Mnookin, 37
Before I had my daughter in 2012, I left my job as a high school science teacher to stay at home. Caring for a newborn often felt isolating and over-whelming. I was ready to hire a baby sitter but, living on only one income, that was too expensive. So, as a coordinator of the Brattleboro Time Trade, I contacted other parents and we broadened our group's child-care network.
We really believed in the "It takes a village" maxim, so we started baby-sitting for each other regularly. The time off enabled me to pursue a grad-school class, go out on dates, get errands done and work 15 hours each week for the Time Trade, answering calls and e-mail from our 230 members and posting announcements. Of course, there are frustrations (some people are less motivated to orchestrate a time exchange than they would be if money were involved) but when it works, and it often does, it's amazing.
When I heard last year that one of our members broke her leg while on a hike, and needed someone to retrieve her car from the trailhead and get her some groceries, I found it gratifying that so many volunteers jumped to her aid. Some time-traders have become good friends who assist without even clocking their hours. Ultimately, that's what this is all about. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need an organization to pull us together—we'd just be neighbors and friends helping one another.
• Abby gives: Membership and outreach coordinating for the Brattleboro Time Trade, garden help, child care
• Abby gets: Child care, dog walking, firewood stacking, hemming and tailoring, garden help, bike tune-ups, patio construction, home weatherization