Time Bank creates community of volunteers

Krysta Gougler, left, and Janie Desmond,<br>Time Bank members
Krysta Gougler, left, and Janie Desmond,
Time Bank members

Ret Boney

DURHAM, N.C. – As a member of the Triangle-area Time Bank, Needham Bryan recently cashed in an hour of time served to receive a home-cooked meal.

He earned the right to that service by taking the trash and recycling to and from the street on pick-up day for Sharon Youse, whose knee problems make it difficult to tackle that chore herself.

Bryan is one of more than half the members of the Time Bank who have a developmental disability, and the opportunity to participate not only has helped him get free services he needs, but to help make life better for someone else.

“Everyone has something of value to share with the community,” says Krysta Gougler, program coordinator for First In Families of North Carolina, which runs the Time Bank and works on behalf of people with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.

“These people are often seen as receivers, not givers,” she says. “But everyone has something to give.”

And for Youse, who does not have a disability, the payoff goes beyond saving her sore knees.

“It’s really geared toward community building,” she says. “It’s a system for building interdependence. It exposes us to our neighbors and expands the concept of what community is.”

That notion fits well with the overall mission of First In Families.

“Our goal is to get people with and without disabilities mixed up together in the community so that all can be contributing and benefitting from all the community has to offer,” says Betsy MacMichael, executive director of the organization and mother of a 19-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy.

For Youse, the Time Bank makes First In Families’ mission a reality.
“Especially for people with developmental disabilities, we tend to focus on independence,” she says. “But the reality is that we’re all interdependent and we all have something we can contribute now.”

Started in June 2010, the Time Bank, one of about 100 across U.S., allows individuals in the Triangle and Person and Chatham counties to perform a service for another member, in the process earning a “time dollar” that can be redeemed for an hour of time volunteered by another member.

All services are valued equally, so an hour of piano tuning earns one time dollar, as does an hour spent providing financial advice, pet sitting or making a meal, all included in the 51 services currently available through the time bank.

The fee to join, which covers the cost of the online tool that tracks services and time balances, is $20 for individuals, $30 for families and $50 for organizations like the Arc of Orange County, which offers meeting space and in return has access to a network of volunteers.

Scholarships are available from First In Families’ Triangle-area chapters for individuals with development disabilities or traumatic brain injuries and their families.

“Initially, it’s a way to volunteer,” says Gougler. “It gives people with disabilities a way to be included in society in different ways. And it’s a way of meeting your neighbors and really building community.”

In addition to complementing First In Families’ mission, the Time Bank was created as a revenue generator.

First In Families is an independent nonprofit and does not participate in Medicaid, but it does rely heavily on government contracts for a large portion of its almost $500,000 budget, with the remainder covered by grants and individual donations.

The Time Bank is one of the agency’s two “social enterprises” that bring in money, and is part of the organization’s effort to lessen dependence on government support.

Its other revenue-producing program, Lifetime Connections, provides future-planning services for people with disabilities and their families across North Carolina, helping them navigate financial planning as well as planning for the time when family caretakers are gone.

Those two revenue-generating programs help support First In Families’ primary effort, which is to help its 13 local chapters covering 45 counties assist in making life easier for their target population.

Operating under the premise that families best know their own needs, First In Families works on behalf of individuals and families to secure price cuts for expenses such as for home modifications, educational support or fences for autistic children who are prone to wandering.

Since the onset of the recession, however, families’ needs have shifted, says MacMichael.

“There’s a greater demand for basic needs,” she says. “And an emergency rent payment usually can’t get much of a reduction.”

Among the more than 2,500 requests for assistance in 2010, almost half were to keep the lights and water running in clients’ homes.

“We’re relentlessly trying, and we do get an occasional power company that will discount or remove a late fee,” says MacMichael.

And with demand expected to be the same or greater this year, the organization will continue to look for ways to solidify its financial footing.

“We’re expecting to be affected by government budget cuts,” she says. “We do a pretty good job of leveraging private-sector funding and we stretch the public dollar. I think that’s helpful.”

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