Time cooperative helps community share skills

How would you like your hair done, house cleaned or computer fixed without paying any money?

It's happening now for 300 members of the Southern Oregon Time Cooperative who offer services and employ the skills of others without a dime changing hands.

Now in its fourth year, the co-op offers counseling, massage, yard work, cat-sitting, hypnotherapy, video production, business law, resume writing, moving and packing services, singing lessons, mural painting, planning a remodel — the list goes on, as you can see on www.sotimecoop.org.

Without any money changing hands, the process is simple, says co-op president Will Wilkinson. You join online and list two references, which are checked. You may live anywhere. When you become a member, you get a quick orientation on the phone and you get three "hours" in your file to spend.

You list services you provide. These get posted on the site, where others peruse them. They call you and you set an appointment.

When you provide services, the hours get posted to your account (in 15-minute increments) and you "spend" them by getting your hair cut, having your clothes mended, weatherizing your home or being driven to the airport.

"It's a means of exchange among community members, with all work considered equal, hour for hour," Wilkinson says. "It's not a barter or exchange system. There are over 100 time cooperatives in the country and they all serve the purposes of easing the burden of this flat economy, getting to know each other, developing local resources, helping business owners with free advertising and having people experience what you do, which is the best advertising."

During a monthly meeting in which members talk up their skills in a process like speed-dating, John Fisher-Smith told of designing a tasteful walkway to replace a woman's gnarly concrete path, then he instructed her son how to build it, netting three hours into his account.

Taking money out of the picture, says Fisher-Smith, "allows people to offer services that they're skilled at and love to do. It's a great community builder."

An architect by career, he also makes free-hand drawings, compost bins and shelving.

"It's a wonderful thing," he says. "Cooperatives are a great alternative to the monetization of everything by the corporate world."

People have less and less disposable money, says board member Asha Goldstein, and costs are going up, so time banking is a big help.

"I've given counseling and help for older folks with Facebook, singing lessons, too," says Goldstein. "I've received sewing, massage, business and marketing help and the best haircut of my life from Gloria."

That's hair designer Gloria Natalia, who says, "It's a wonderful way to meet people and get house cleaning, plumbing and computer help."

With the blooming demand for gluten-free foods, Naomi Caspe has found a niche baking healthful flax and carrot crackers on low heat. She has received consultations on making PowerPoint presentations, filing and peeling off old wallpaper.

"It's like Christmas, having got a lot of clothes hemmed and mended and now I can wear them," says Goldstein.

Member Doug Kipping says he offers rides and biofeedback for stress and received help with hauling. Jim Jordan offers nutritional consulting and recently received 12 hours of book editing he says he couldn't otherwise afford.

The co-op is nonprofit. The IRS has established that time banks that trade in hours are "non-taxable events." Members may ask reimbursement for materials, such as food and gas, but any work translated into dollars would be taxable.

The SOTC is a great way for new businesses or new arrivals in the valley to get traction, Wilkinson says, noting it has grown fast enough that its board is hiring a half-time coordinator next year. It has a budget of $30,000 a year and has received four grants in its lifetime.

SOTC is adding three to four members a day, says Wilkinson, noting, "It's happening because we're doing what neighbors have always done for each other."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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