The organizing concept of the Long Beach Time Exchange isn’t complicated—instead of cash, members exchange time for services. But it is unorthodox, considering that almost everyone living in the 21st-century United States has known nothing but cash-based economics.
This is exactly the orthodoxy to which the Long Beach Time Exchange (LBTE), which on Sunday celebrated its two-year anniversary, provides an alternative.
“Members earn one time dollar for each hour that they help others, and spend one time dollar for each hour that they receive a favor, service or lesson from another,” explains the LBTE Website. In the process of completing time exchanges, we learn new skills and uncover our gifts, make new friends, work to create sustainability for ourselves, and our great city. […] The core values of time banking […] include recognizing that everyone has something to give, acknowledging that some work is beyond price, and practicing reciprocity, interdependence, and respect in a community network.”
It’s a particularly salient message in a time when economic realities have finally made it clear to the majority of Americans that, whatever our country is, it’s not a place where simply being willing and able to work means you can earn a living.
But time banking eliminates the economic middleman, allowing individuals to receive services for their own service, rather than finding someone who can give you pieces of paper and metal for your labor.
As LBTE co-founder Christine Petit pointed around the time of LBTE’s first anniversary, “Time banking is not necessarily to replace the market economy—we’re not living outside of that reality—but it’s also recognizing that not everything that has value in our communities and society is valued in a market economy.”
It’s a system that’s working well for Melina Paris, a LBTE member for the past year-and-a-half. Paris has received resume and computer help, among other services, in exchange for providing massage. And she finds the process to be very straightforward.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said at Sunday’s anniversary celebration, held at the HUB Community Bike Center. “If I can do it, literally anybody can do it, because I’m not a computer person. […] People have always responded. It’s not like you send a message out there and don’t get a response. People are quick to respond.”
Paris says that, contrary to what many currency traditionalists might expect, the quality of service offered by LBTE members is “excellent, every time.” But equally as important to Paris is the social aspect and the quality of the people involved, who show a generosity you tend not to find in the so-called “free market.” She tells a story of a friend who was out of work and in need of food. Paris says that within a day of putting the message out there, LBTE members “just overwhelmingly leaped in to help.”
During the past year LBTE membership has grown by half, now surpassing 300 members—a figure co-founder Tony Damico regards as a good start, but nowhere near the organization’s potential reach.
“I think for serving a city of half a million, 300 members is a good start, but I would definitely like to see that get closer to 1,000 in a couple of years,” he says.
Damico envisions eventually having neighborhood time exchanges spread across Long Beach, with residents meeting near to their homes once a month, rather than just the current centralized LBTE monthly meeting, though these all would be connected to the same network LBTE network.
Damico regards the quality of service and the personal development of members as the elements of the LBTE with which he is most satisfied at the two-year mark.
“I’m really happy with the quality of services that are offered, from people who are learning skills and have a fervent commitment to doing the best they can, and also from people who are professionals and bringing their experience and service into the mix. I think the Time Exchange is a combination of both, and it’s really exciting to see how people are building skill sets that are going to help them sustain their own lives as well. We’ve also seen a lot of members who come to us unemployed and end making connections and building skills so they get a better idea of where their gifts lie and what they really love to do, which is really helping people meet their own needs, as well.”
As for the biggest challenge, Damico points to technology.
“There have been points where the software development has been a little bit challenging for us,” he relates, “but with a bit of patience we’ve seen the team of folks who are working to make the software open-source untangling it so it can be modified. We just saw an update roll out this past weekend that has a lot of improvements. It’s been a bit frustrating, but I think everyone can relate to being frustrated with technology. And even if it’s pretty good technology, it’s not multi-billion-dollar technology, like Google or Facebook, right? But both of those can be frustrating, too. But I think the digital divide itself has been challenging, as well, so we’re happy to be partnering with Building Healthy Communities, so that we have not only office space, but space where we can connect with the members [of the LBTE] and connect people who are in the BHC network with each other. Having more opportunities for face-to-face interaction has definitely made us who we are today, and we hope to continue to use face-to-face interaction as well as technology to build stronger networks.”
Where will the Long Beach Time Exchange be a year from now? That’s a question only its current and future members can answer. And they will do so while enjoying a medium of exchange not regulated by the federal government and the vagaries of the nation’s economy. For many in these perilous fiscal times, it’s a chance too good to pass by.
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