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The Tucson Time Traders promote personal empowerment by sharing skills

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For Tucsonan Winona Smith, the adage "you get what you pay for" doesn't ring true. The idea that something free is less-valuable than something expensive doesn't cut it for her, either.

Smith is a co-coordinator of Tucson Time Traders, Tucson's local time bank. As defined at tucson.timebanks.org, a time bank is a group of people who trade an hour of work for an hour of work by someone else. The time is banked so you can trade accumulated hours with anyone within the network.

Smith gives an example of a recent transaction: "I needed help with my computer, so I put in a request through the time bank for someone to help with computer repair. Chris (Van Sprout, a Tucson Time Traders co-coordinator) spent five hours working on my computer. I owed five hours to the time bank. Another person needed dog-sitting, so I took care of her dog. I got (time-bank) hours taking care of her dog. Then I wanted to have my hair done. I put in a request for that. ... You don't have to be connected to the person who did the service. You can do a service for someone and use your time-bank hours elsewhere." All time-bank hours are tracked via an online system.

In contrast to bartering and traditional banking, Smith says, time-banking has a different feel. "Bartering is when two people sit down together and do an exchange: 'I will do this for you, and you will do that for me.' It's usually a one-on-one type of thing. The usual banking system is trading money for a service. And time-banking is definitely different from charity in that everybody is giving."

Tucson Time Traders began about a year ago when co-coordinators Smith, Van Sprout and Kacie Johnson got together with four other people. They did some research and signed up with the national TimeBanks USA. Currently, Tucson Time Traders has around 21 members. Smith says the goal is to have at least 100 people involved.

Tucson Time Traders conducts community potluck and orientation meetings at 5:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Ward 3 City Council Office, 1510 E. Grant Road. The next meeting is on Feb. 9, the day this issue officially hits the streets. After that, the next meeting is March 8. Smith says that a potluck commences at 5:30 so people can get to know each other.

"Then from 6 to 7 p.m., we explain how time-banking works and do activities to help them understand (further). From 7 to 8 p.m., we have an operating-committee meeting, which the public is welcome to attend."

Currently, joining Tucson Time Traders is free, and having a computer is not required.

You might think that people sign up to trade what they do for a living for another service, but Smith says that's only a small piece of the pie. "We like it if you think out of the box. ... It's more fun if you do things you really enjoy doing." As an unusual example, she heard that some women in another city's time bank got together to help sew a wedding dress.

Smith says the premise of the time bank is to help with community. One of the values of Tucson Time Traders is that people help each other reweave communities of support, strength and trust.

"It helps to integrate the ages," Smith says. "Older people meet younger people. Older people may not be trapped in their house but are connected. People who have handicaps may need assistance." She also notes that "the difference in their gratitude for the help is so different when they can be helpful themselves."

One surprising trend Smith has noticed is that some people have a harder time figuring out what they want than what they can give. "Many people want to give. The first thing we want to know is, 'What do you want?' Reciprocity is very important in the system. You can't have the time bank flow if you aren't willing to be helped."

Another trend is the creation of a positive balance of giving and receiving. As stated at tucson.timebanks.org, "How can I help you?" becomes, "How can we help each other build the world we both will live in?"

Not bad for something that's free.

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