Remember the days when your father helped paint a neighbor's house and that neighbor returned the favor by helping him with his tax return?
A group based in the Clintonville neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, has brought back that concept of being neighborly, but with a more universal twist.
The Care and Share Time Bank allows members to call on neighbors for help with anything from a drive to the airport to a Spanish lesson, from eye care to car repairs. The helpers earn "time credits" that they can use to recruit other time-bank members to fulfill their needs.
Building community is at the project's core, says co-founder Michael Greenman of Westerville, Ohio, a Columbus suburb. But other benefits to members include saving money, especially during tough economic times; reducing energy use; and placing equal value on the abilities of all participants.
"Everybody has skills and value, and that's one of the principles we go on," said Mr. Greenman, a retired international-marketing executive. "Every service that is provided is valued equally. There's no hierarchy."
Since its founding about two years ago, the project has grown to 160 members who have exchanged about 1,200 hours.
A steadily growing national movement has resulted in the formation of at least 300 banks across the country and inspires interest from five new groups each week, says Edgar Cahn, founder of the Washington-based TimeBanks USA.
Time banking has largely been a grass-roots movement of people "discovering we need each other," Mr. Cahn says, but it is expanding as nonprofits learn to enlist the networks as partners. For example, some time banks partner with hospital systems on research, offer visiting-nurse services, and work with new immigrants, he says.
"It creates a new extended family that bridges race, class, gender, ethnicity, and national origin in a very exciting way," he says. "This is really about what equality means. This is what it means to be a human being."
Partners in the Care and Share network include the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, and Simply Living. Members can donate some of their accrued time to the nonprofit groups, which can then engage the time bank for needed tasks, such as helping to plan an activity or driving a disabled client to a medical appointment.
Tina Thonnings, who lives in Columbus's Clintonville neigborhood, has drawn on the time bank for various services, including having her house painted, organizing a room, and moving a refrigerator. She has helped others with child care, reflexology, filing, and other tasks.
Examples of other offerings in the bank are lawn and garden care, tailoring, cooking, photo restoration, computer help, music lessons, and pet care.
"Everyone has something to give, and each of us is valued for what we have to offer," says Ms. Thonnings, who works as a business director at a preschool and as a massage therapist. "A lot of people don't think they have a lot to give, but most of the tasks people want are things that anyone can give."
Recently, Thonnings helped out local resident Joe Del Medico, who needed to get some paperwork in order. He says he's been described as a "poster child" for the group, having given about 47 hours of time and cashing in about 16.
The computer programmer asked for help plastering, painting, and performing plumbing work on a rental property. He's offered computer help, online-file organization, and electrical work.
He says the main benefits to time banking are being able to get to know and trust the people doing the work (members meet for monthly potluck meals) and being able to obtain services that otherwise would have been unaffordable.
The framework also helps people who have needs retain self-confidence and dignity by allowing them to offer their time to others, says co-founder Steve Bosserman, a business-management consultant.
"It assigns a value that each person of the community can provide by simply doing something that they know how to do for someone who, for whatever reason, is not able to do it for themselves," Mr. Bosserman says. "It provides an even playing field."