VAN BUREN, Maine — Time banking is an idea whose time has come, and it has come to northern Maine.
Rather than dealing in currency, the St. John Valley Time Bank, based out of Van Buren, matches people, skills and services among its registered members.
“It’s just incredible,” said Paul Vaillencourt, one of the bank’s key organizers. “We’ve only just started in April and we’ve had just a handful of transactions so far, but it’s really amazing how it affects people.”
Time banks are a nationwide phenomenon, with seven in Maine, including the new St. John Valley “branch.” There are 340 across the country.
At its core, a time bank is a group of people who trade hours of donated work for equal hours of needed services provided by other members of the bank.
It’s set up so participants “bank” donated hours, which can accumulate and be “redeemed” for accumulated hours of service from anyone within the time bank’s local network.
Hours of service are deposited in a time bank account in much the same way as money is deposited in a traditional bank account.
Participants are entitled to withdraw from their time bank accounts for services to meet their needs.
In the case of Vaillencourt, a licensed chiropractor, he said he has patients he knows have a difficult time paying for health care and other necessities
If he were to donate one or more hours helping an individual, Vaillencourt, in turn, can redeem those hours with an individual who has offered seamstress and other related services as her time bank contributions.
“Not only can I now ask this person for help, but I can pay her in ‘time bank’ hours to do it,” Vaillencourt said. “It’s a win-win for both of us.”
The St. John Valley Time Bank is a project of the community advocacy program Go Van Buren and one of its major proponents is Go Van Buren spokeswoman Nancy Dumond.
“I really like how it equalizes everyone,” Dumond said. “Everyone has a talent, and every talent is important, [and] the time bank allows those talents to shine in a way people can earn services.”
Vaillencourt and Dumond stress that the time bank is different from a traditional barter system — something on which the IRS imposes tax.
“This is not you and me trading hours directly,” Dumond said. “It’s about what goes around comes around and whatever you are good at matters.”
Dumond is an active participant in the St. John Valley Time Bank, offering services including driving the elderly, running errands, outdoor adventure programs for youth and offering equine-assisted services as part of her own equine therapy program.
In return, she has posted her own needs for someone looking to donate hours in repairing her lawn mower, in farm labor or house cleaning.
Vaillencourt said he first got the notion to start up a time bank in Van Buren after reading about it in AARP Magazine.
Once he was satisfied it would not create tax problems for participants, he approached the Go Van Buren board to see whether they wanted to take it on as a project.
Soon after, the necessary software was in place and the bank opened its virtual doors last month.
There is a modest sign-up fee and interview process to become a member, Vaillencourt said, adding participants should use the “same rules of engagement” when interacting with fellow time bank members as they would with anyone else they contact on the Internet.
“In the time bank you can do something for someone else and they don’t have to have what you need — someone else in the bank may have it,” he said. “There are also people who bank hours because they just like to do things for other people.”
Vaillencourt said time banks also allow individuals for whom securing a job has been a challenge to gain pride and worth by offering services.
“It gets people thinking, ‘What can I do?’” he said. “We have people in town who have not left their homes for years because of disabilities, and I am willing to bet we can find a way for them to be and feel productive as part of the time bank.”
Vaillencourt hopes enrollment in the St. John Valley Time Bank grows, and though it now is open only to residents of Van Buren, there is room for expansion.
He said he plans to talk to nonprofit groups like church volunteers in an attempt to get large blocks of registrants at a time.
“We think we have a way for them to actually reward their volunteers through equal exchange of time bank hours,” Vaillencourt said. “I really like the underlying values of a time bank: Everyone has value and we are all assets.”
Information on the St. John Valley Time Bank is available at www.sjv.timebanks.org.