Winston-Salem’s time banking exchange, which uses person hours as currency in place of cash, is the sixth largest in the country and the only active program in North Carolina.
When Arleatha Patterson was experiencing homelessness, she was struck by an insight about herself.
“I lost everything,” she recalled. “Time was something that could not be taken away from me. It was something innate that could allow me to go from nothing to something.”
Many years prior she had served as an intern at Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods in Winston-Salem, and a contact there thought she would be a perfect fit for a new position to run a proposed time-banking program at the nonprofit. The nonprofit, which provides technical assistance and organizing support for community leaders, starts by identifying the assets rather than the needs of challenged neighborhoods, and the time-banking concept fit its mission. Time is money, as the old adage goes, and Patterson makes the case that everyone has “gifts, skills and talents” that can be leveraged into value.
“Even when I went through homelessness, I didn’t like handouts,” Patterson said. “While I was at the shelter I began to talk to my roommates about time-banking. If you’re not rooted in yourself, you can develop a negative sense of yourself.”
Since Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods’ time-banking program was launched in November 2016, the program has signed up almost 380 members with more than 2,000 service hours exchanged.
Time-banking emerged in the 1980s as a concept and practice developed by Edgar Cahn, a social-justice lawyer who had previously worked as special counsel and speechwriter for Attorney General Robert Kennedy under the administration of President John Kennedy. The model replaces money with a person-hour as a unit of currency. Under time-banking, all labor is valued the same, so that an hour of dental work is equal to an hour of landscaping or an hour of childcare. In contrast to a one-to-one swap of labor, an hour of service rendered under the time-banking model can be banked and redeemed through services received from a third person.
“Normally, in our society, we put value on certain skillsets versus other skillsets,” Patterson said. “We value all skillsets. A doctor might make a lot of money, but they want to make their yard look great, so someone who can do landscaping is going to be valuable for them.”
TimeBanks USA, a nonprofit that supports time-banking programs, estimates there are 30,000 to 40,000 people using the system in the United States. According to the nonprofit’s directory, the NBN Neighborhood Network in Winston-Salem is the 6th largest time-banking program in the nation, and the 10th largest in the world. Five other programs have registered in North Carolina, including in Durham, Carrboro and Asheville, but only one — Western North Carolina Writers Time Bank in Bryson City — has logged a single exchange, making all of them essentially start-ups.
To learn more about NBN Neighborhood Network, Winston-Salem’s time bank, visit nbnneighborhoodnetwork.timebanks.org.
The model redefines what types of labor are valued and even what age people are conventionally understood to be productive.
In Winston-Salem, third grader Josiah Polite read to a younger child at the Carver School Road Branch Library on Monday afternoon to earn credit for Hoops4Lyfe, a youth mentoring program. Brittany Ward, the nonprofit’s CEO, said students have worked in a community garden, boxed food for needy families, picked up litter and served as line marshals monitoring their younger peers to earn credit for Hoops4LYFE. In turn, the nonprofit, was able to redeem some of its credits to secure a bounce house for four hours from another time-banking member during a recent community event.
Ward also spends hours banked by her nonprofit to pay for tutors and volunteers. On a personal basis, Ward has banked hours from providing a free workshop on how to start a nonprofit. She said she has yet to redeem any of her personal hours.
Through the Winston-Salem time-banking program, Stephanie Hurt said she was able to find someone to take her disabled husband to the gym and walk with him while she was at work. Hurt serves as finance officer for Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods and also owns a faith-based theater company, Royal Curtain Drama Guild. As a theater producer, Hurt was familiar with a kind of informal time-banking long before she was introduced to the term.
“The things that would be costly [to produce a play] were in-kinded,” she said. “An individual says, ‘I’ll do that.’ It could have been a hindrance if those individuals weren’t willing to help. I may not have been able to put on that play.”
Hurt has a saying about swapped labor: “Favor ain’t fair, but it’s very fulfilling.”
“If you need this strength that I have, here it is,” she said. “If I need a strength from you, I can go out and grab it. No one has to operate on a weak link in a time bank. It’s a true Biblical principle: We are all our brothers’ keepers. Those kind of things work in that system.”
Members of the NBN Neighborhood Network can go to the time-bank website to post offers for services along with requests, and to log hours. Recent offers include marketing, computer coding, craft classes, conflict mediation and massage. Members have requested car maintenance classes, Yorkie grooming, tax services, hair-braiding and home visits to elders.
NBN Neighborhood Network has signed up one lawyer, a recent graduate of NC Central University School of Law, but on the whole Patterson acknowledged that the network has had more difficulty attracting people in professions that traditionally command high hourly rates.
“I try to appeal to reciprocity,” she said. “Most people who are rich are volunteering. This is a way to give, but also value what other people can do.”
The reciprocal dynamic of time-banking makes it different from charity or social service.
“I want to use it with churches,” Patterson said. “Churches are always ridiculed about not doing enough community engagement. They have a lot of vans that can be put to use. People in churches have a lot of gifts, skills and talents. But they can also find out the people in the community have a lot of gifts, skills and talents as well.”
Patterson said when she tries to sign up new members, people often tell her they’re already doing a form of time-banking in their own communities. She said trust is key to building an extensive network with a membership that represents a wide of array of skills and interests. The system allows for smaller, contained circles, but Patterson encourages members to branch out and engage with people in the community whom they may not know.
Winston-Salem is saddled with the highest level of poverty among North Carolina’s five largest cities. Brittany Ward, the CEO of Hoops4LYFE, noted that reducing dependency on cash can be a way to effectively leverage collective resources. She hopes that more people will buy into time-banking and build a stronger, more resilient community.
“It’s gonna come a time when we rely more on our neighbors,” she said. “That’s the way it’s been in previous years. Why stray away from something that’s not broken?”