Member Spotlight: Building Community

The Silver Spring Timebank involves getting to know people, not just using their services, member says.


By the logic of modern society, in which time is money, the notion of a timebank doesn’t make a lot of sense, necessarily.

After all, which is easier, if your favorite pair of pants springs a hole in the pocket: to drop it off at the tailor on the way to work and pick it up that evening at a cost of, say, $20? Or to search through the Timebank for someone who claims to do sewing, send them an email through the anonymous system and hope they write back and then, if they do, find out where they live and when you might be able to swing by?

It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, according to Bob Kirk, a Silver Spring Timebank member, fiddler with things that can go wrong around the house and connoisseur of social structures from around the world.

“Depending on the thing you’re providing, it naturally happens, like when I’m teaching people handyman stuff,” said Bob, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia, worked in international development in Ecuador and Guatemala and plied his skills as an IT geek for the State Department in four different embassies.

For example, he said, he once responded to a request from Timebank member Carrie Noel-Nosbaum, who had some blinds that needed fixing, among other household repairs.

Before leaving, he gave Carrie a list of tools that would be good to acquire to maintain her apartment, and so the two got to chat.

In contrast, he said, there was relatively little interaction when he provided services to another Timebank member.

“I was chopping wood for somebody and went over there several times,” he said. “One time, she was in another part of the yard doing some stuff, and the second time, she was just inside, so I’m just doing work in her yard. So aside from saying hello, it’s not a shared activity.”

And so if he had his druthers, Bob would institute an informal requirement that each Timebank exchange include some, well, informality.

“What I would like is maybe that you put something into it that part of the exchange is the sit-down-and-get-to-know-you part, like, each hour, do a 20-minute— give the person tea or coffee … so like when I’m dropping off someone’s sewing or picking up my sewing, that I have to make a connection— they have to be there, we have to invite each other in.

“I thought that was happening more, but there’s two types of exchanges, the ones that don’t have that built in and the ones that do,” he continued. “But having it out there …  like, you should bank on an hour exchange that includes the 20 minutes of socializing. …  That’s certainly my model, that I want to try and include that personal exchange, at least a little bit of who I am or what I’m doing and what your background is too.”

To some extent, Bob says, the Timebank recognizes this non-formal aspect— hence the quarterly social events where people can simply hang out and talk.

“[People are] trying to go from the formal to the informal, but how do you make that transition, how do you not keep track of hours?” he said.

Carrie, the recipient of Bob’s tools-to-buy list, is grateful for Bob’s services, including fixing an oven drawer that had come off its rails.

“He kind of figured it out while I was watching and then showed me, so if it happened again, I would know how to fix it,” she said.

In fact, he suggested she get her air ducts cleaned before he left— something Carrie said would not have occurred to her.

‘It wasn’t like, ‘Just come in and do the job,’” she said. “It was, ‘How can I help make sure you’re taking care of your place the best that you can with the knowledge I can give you?’”

But for Bob, there’s something larger at stake—something that goes beyond sharing skills and imparting knowledge, important as those are. 

For example, the Timebank has a Community Time Chest for people with personal emergencies— in fact, Bob was the first beneficiary.

“I gave a kidney to a woman in California,” said Bob, who lives with his wife and three children in East Silver Spring. “So I was home for six weeks afterwards— it’s an abdominal wound, so you’re not supposed to lift things, and so I had people come by and bring meals, was the main thing.”

In addition, Bob said, timebanks can help restore something that has been lost in the definition of friendship.

“When you build that next level, of doing things for each other,” he said, “it’s a deeper friendship than, ‘We just enjoy each other’s company, and I would never ask you for help, and you would never ask me for help.”

In short, Bob said, a timebank is more than a credit-exchange mechanism— it’s a way to get to know people even if the services those people offer also could be obtained simply by picking up the phone and calling a plumber, for example.

“I think that’s part of the challenge, is we’ve got to get used to … this older concept of friendship,” he said. “You have to accept some inefficiencies but realize those inefficiencies are part of the benefit you get.”

Thank you to SSTB member Mark Sherman for writing this Member Spotlight article.