More About the Cambridge Time Trade Circle

More About the Cambridge Time Trade Circle

Parents of special needs children are isolated and in need of all kinds of support and services, learned Katherine Ellin, while she was in charge or a community support collaborative. A psychologist by training, Ellin realized that many parents were afraid to ask for help from friends and neighbors, for fear of being indebted for those favors, a concept she describes as being “one down”.

As she tried to find ways to help those families, she stumbled upon the work of Edgar Cahn, a social justice worker who in 1980 invented the idea of Time Banking. The concept was to capitalize on all individuals’ abilities. He wrote a book to explain called, “Time Dollars: The New Currency That Enables Americans to Turn Their Hidden Resource-Time-Into Personal Security and Community Renewal” (1992) and the concept caught on. Time Banks have worked successfully in 60 locations across the US and in 21 other countries.

A time bank aimed at helping serve the needs of special needs families was launched in January of 2005,

Two years later, Ellin decided that same concept could be opened up to the community at large and, with help from other volunteers, launched the Cambridge Time Trade Circle. “We wanted to build a strong neighbor to neighbor time bank”.

“People are shy about asking for help,” says volunteer coordinator Louisa Rosenheck, “they don’t want to ask for charity.”

Carol Moses, another volunteer organizer, adds, “You don’t have to get help from the people you are helping. It frees you up to give and receive help. You offer something to someone else. You don’t have to trade with the same person.”

“So many people in our society get marginalized and it is so important to value each member of our society. It helps society overall,” says Ellin.

The way the Cambridge Time Trade Circle works in pretty simple. Individuals sign up on the website Next, they are asked to attend a brief orientation session after which they are given access to an internal website where requests and offers can be listed.

Time traders are “paid” in time dollars. Each hour of their work enables them to an hour of service from another participant. At signup, each new member receives a gift of five free time dollars.

“Some people join to be a volunteer, want to do things for others. It’s a great opportunity to do things for others without putting them in a “one down” position.”

“Anyone who uses it gets a lot out of it, [for example] retirees and older people. It’s great for them, like when they need help taking out an AC or moving furniture.”

“Probably the most common services traded are transportation (like rides to the grocery or to Ikea), pet care is also high [as are] repairs and snow removal.”

All sorts of services are exchanged on the Time Trade Circle’s website. A recent searched turned up an offer of martial arts lessons, a request for help mending clothing, and an offer by Allison Fastman for “birthday party entertaining.”

“I tell stories, paint faces, can do characters (i.e. any Disney princess), lead games, and generally entertain young children (age 2-8). I've been a nanny, babysitter, and preschool teacher collectively for 11 years. Tell me what your child likes if you want help working out a theme for the party or if you have something in mind, let me know. I'm very flexible and imaginative. I can make balloon animals. My specialties are dogs and giraffes ;)”

Another offers cooking help,

“Food is one of my loves in life. I love eating it and making it. I've cooked in restaurants, held dinner parties and have run a cooking club.

If you have a recipe and need help in preparing it, come to me,” says Peter Wong.

The most unusual trade, “A request came in after a member’s aunt died.” says Ellin, “They needed a pall bearer at the funeral. Wayne Jenski agreed.

“They needed a lot of strong people to take the casket into the church, up and around a narrow stairwell,” says Jenski. “It was pretty simple, really.”

The Time Trade Circle now has about 150 members, but is hoping to enlarge itself.
“Ideally I would like it to grow and become more active. My long term fantasy is that the group would become so large that it would have to break up into smaller, neighborhood groups, like one for mid-Cambridge, an Agassiz group, a Watertown group... so that members get to better know their neighborhood,” says Ellin.

The “main goal,” says Ellin, “is really to build community and to connect people. People need connection.”

For more information check out Cambridge Time Trade Circle


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I think time is the most valuable thing you could give anyone. Because once it's gone, it's gone for good. Kudo's to all the time bankers.