Community can pay it forward through Time Bank movement

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Natalya Resendez and her husband, Ricardo, moved to Cedar Rapids from Roanoke, Va., about a year ago when Ricardo was transferred for work.

With no friends or family in the area, Natalya Resendez, 35, wanted to find a way to connect with others in her new community.

She’d heard a story about time banks — a social movement similar to the idea of paying it forward — on a national news show and decided to try to find one in Cedar Rapids.

Resendez’s search led her to The Tapestry, a non-profit agency housed in the Ecumenical Center, 601 Second Ave. SE, in Cedar Rapids, where she discovered a time bank the agency was just getting off the ground.

Paula Land and Marti Gray, co-founders of The Tapestry, started thinking about a time bank in 2007 after attending a conference in Madison, Wis.

Time banking aims to strengthen communities by connecting people.

At its most basic level, the Time Bank website says, time banking means spending an hour doing something for someone — maybe a stranger, maybe a friend — in the community.

For every hour a participant spends helping someone else in the organization — whether it’s driving, tutoring, helping around the house or working in the garden — that person earns a “time dollar.” The time dollar can then be spent having someone do something for them.

In other words, it’s a new spin on an old idea — bartering. But instead of chickens, time bank members are generally trading services.

“One of the things I think is really valuable is the reciprocity this offers,” said Gray of Cedar Rapids.

“When you do something for someone else, you feel really, really good, but the person you helped, while they feel good, doesn’t have that level of good feeling.”

Providing a way for those people to “pay forward” the help they received benefits both sides, she said.

And time banking differs from bartering in that members aren’t negotiating terms of the exchange. The “time dollars” take that element out of the equation.

Additionally, while bartering is a means to an end — you need something, I need something, let’s trade — a time bank’s mission is to connect people and build relationships.

That’s why, the time bank is open to everyone in the area, Gray said.

People sign up through a database at The Tapestry. They list both the kinds of assistance they can provide as well as the things they want help with. Gray said calling the list of help a “want” list rather than a “need” list opens the field of possibilities.

“You may have someone who loves to have a garden, or who loves to look at flowers outside but doesn’t really want to work in the dirt,” she said. “It’s something you could do, but not necessarily something you’d want to do. So you get paired with someone who loves to work in the garden.”

The time bank idea is catching on. There are now close to 30 participants who get together a few times a year for picnics, potlucks and, in January, for a dessert trade. Once their names and lists are in the database the events are planned to help them get to know each other.

It’s been three years since Gray and Land came back from the conference in Wisconsin energized to start the Time Bank in Cedar Rapids.

“We didn’t really know much about it, and we wondered whether Cedar Rapids would embrace this idea,” said Land of Cedar Rapids.

Then came the Floods of 2008 and a time when the community “really rallied together,” she said.

Not only were seemingly unaffected people from throughout Cedar Rapids helping flood victims, but so were groups from all over the country.

Now, interest is growing. Gray estimates the database will grow to more than 100 participants in 2011.

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