Neighbors Helping Neighbors: Time Banking in 2024

In communities across the globe, people aren’t biding their time — they’re “banking” it!

The concept is called Time Banks. Members bank — or accumulate — hours by, for example, doing repairs for others or taking someone to the store. They get repaid with assistance when they need it. The system is being looked upon by many as one possible way to help older adults age in place.

How It All Started

The idea of time as “currency” goes back to the Depression and World War II, when people traded skills for food. Even before that, across time small communities (whether in rural areas or within larger cities) have had the tradition of neighbors helping neighbors.

Edgar Cahn, former speechwriter for Robert F. Kennedy and executive assistant to Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver, resurrected the idea in the 1960s, after funding for social programs was eliminated, and coined the term “Time Dollars.” He also trademarked “Time Bank.” In 1995, he founded TimeBanks.org, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that helps volunteers establish time banks in local communities. It’s estimated that thousands of time banks with several hundred thousand members exist in some 37 countries, including the United States, China, Malaysia, Japan, Senegal, Argentina, Brazil, and the European countries. In the U.S. alone there are more than 40,000 members in some 500 time banks.

The concept is based on five core principles, created by Cahn:

  • Everyone has something to contribute.
  • Volunteering is valued as “work.”
  • There isa reciprocity or “pay it forward” ethos.
  • Community building is key.
  • Mutual accountability and respect are required.

In addition to the practical benefits of exchanging services, the idea has another, more profound benefit: Social Capital. Members of time banks get to know each other as they help each other, and friendships are formed. A time bank can serve as a practical tool in piercing social isolation. Some banks even hold regular social gatherings, or get together for special celebrations.

Many time banks are volunteer community projects, and others are funded by cities. In Sebastopol, Calif., for example, the time bank is funded by the city and operates as a nonprofit of the city’s Community Cultural Center. Members reimburse each other for costs (for example, materials or gas money), but the service requested and membership are free.

Sometimes time banks help each other. In New York City, for example, when one time bank closed, its members were able to transfer their hours to another one.

Helping Baby Boomers Thrive

Some time banks find they have an excess of banked hours, as many people want to save them for use “when they’re older.” Others spring up in college towns specifically to help students. But there also are time banks specifically geared toward older adults. These concentrate on helping seniors run errands, shop for groceries, get to doctor’s appointments, and the like. Members also can help each other by keeping each other company, which combats isolation.

Each time bank is unique and adapted to fit its community. The Cleveland (Ohio) TimeBank, located on the near west side of Cleveland, has resources on its website in both English and Spanish to meet the needs of its local community.

St. Gallen, Switzerland, started planning its Stiftung Zeitvorsorge (Foundation Time Care) in 2012 to help seniors stay in their homes and live independently longer. The city had surveyed its residents and found that 75 percent wanted to age in place, but were concerned because younger family members had moved away. St. Gallen differs from many time banks in that local organizations and facilities (e.g., the Swiss Red Cross and others), are contracted to be part of the program to help the city’s older adults get the services they need.

And the Kent (Ohio) Community Timebank includes opportunities to volunteer with local nonprofits, like “The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent,” which feeds people through volunteers who sew. “Sewist” volunteers make items that are sold at local farmers markets. In 2023, more than $40,000 was donated to local hunger organizations to help alleviate food insecurity.

Time banks require a lot of planning and organization, and a good software system to track members’ banked and used hours, but the return from this investment can be invaluable. Everyone has something they can offer to others. Members of time banks offer their skills to others and receive the help they need, including perhaps the most valuable one: community.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work on aging-in-place options. The author, Reese Fayde, is a dedicated problem solver and skills development coach. She’s passionate about working with change-makers — individuals committed to transforming the status quo, whether it’s in their industry, community, or organization.

2 Comments

  1. Kathy Faircloth on February 6, 2024 at 12:11 pm

    In rural Gadsden, Alabama we have RSVP (Retired Seniors Volunteer Program) Seniors 55 years and older find non-profit organizations to pair with and RSVP reimburses them for mileage They also bring the Volunteers together for social events and nonprofits have a wealth of willing participants.

    • Barb Powell on February 6, 2024 at 2:50 pm

      That’s a great service! 🙂

Leave a Comment