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Baltimore Time Bank hooks people up to trade services

Members range from a juggler to a sound healer

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

7:08 PM EDT, September 17, 2012

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Andrea Wenger needed computer help. Ian Schlakman wanted nutrition counseling.

So they traded services. And no money exchanged hands.

"I fixed two of her laptops," Schlakman said. "In exchange for that, she gave me one hour of nutrition help."

"I think we have at least another hour," Wenger said.

Wenger, of southwest Baltimore, and Schlakman, of Fells Point, are members of the new Baltimore Time Bank. The organization, whose members meet at the Union Mill teacher housing and nonprofit complex in Hampden, helps nonprofits and owners of businesses — as well as individuals — exchange their skills and talents without using money.

Five years in the planning, the time bank, one of 300 nationwide, plus more in Europe, is now getting off the ground, according to Schlakman, a coordinator of the Baltimore group.

Membership is low and Schlakman said he is waiting for about 50 people to sign up, before he has a formal kickoff.

The time bank has two websites, http://letsbemore.timebanks.org and www.letsbmore.org, and Schlakman says he can train anyone who wants to join.

Baltimore Time Bank also has a 501C-3 fiscal sponsor, the Baltimore-based Fusion Partnerships.

Longer established time banks are in Columbia, Howard County, and Anne Arundel County, Schlakman said.

Time banks are often thought of as a kind of barter system, but Schlakman said they're not, because the exchanges are in hours that can be used for agreed-upon services or held onto for future use.

"It doesn't have to be a direct exchange," he said. "You can simply bank the hours and save them for a rainy day."

Time bank members create accounts on one of the two websites, where they can log their hours, Schlakman said. They can also transfer hours to other members or organizations that are members, he said.

The recent agreement between Schlakman, 27, of Fells Point, and Wenger, 43, of southwest Baltimore, is typical of the kinds of transactions that members say are possible through the Baltimore Time Bank.

Schlakman owns Civilizations Systems based in Fells Point, which provides technology services to schools and nonprofits.

Wenger owns Community-Supported Wellness, a nonprofit she founded that offers holistic wellness services.

Wenger is also in private practice in Hampden as a master in Reiki, a spiritual practice, and a sound healer, using her voice and other sounds to promote healing.

Wenger hasn't exchanged more services since her trade with Schlakman, but said, "I am eager to get back in the system. I just love how (the time bank) facilitates connections and honors each person. I think it offers a personal touch and adds value to what each person has to offer."

"The time bank is a great way for nonprofits to encourage community," Schlakman said.

It is also helpful in hard economic times, he said.

"We know that people in hard times are relying on neighbors," said Schlakman. "This is a way to do things a little more formally."

"You can't really pay your rent with the time bank, but you can save some money on other things," said Wenger.

Also a member is Jerry Raitzyk, of Hampden, who is in his 26th year as owner of the Chesapeake Juggling Institute. Raitzyk foresees being able to offer classes for things he needs, such as a ride to a doctor's office.

"It's all reciprocal," he said.

Raitzyk spent Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15, juggling and promoting Baltimore Time Bank at a DIY (Do It Yourself) Festival at the St. John's United Methodist Church in Charles Village.

"People here are trying to think outside the box," he told a reporter as he juggled for children.

Intrigued by the time bank was DIY Festival participant Zenobia Taylor-Weiss, 23, of Baltimore Food Swap, which enables people to trade homegrown foods.

"I think it's a neat idea," she said of the time bank, "but I don't know too much about it."

Urban farmer Don Barton, of Hampden, co-founder of the Hampden-based Baltimore Free Farm, said he signed up for the time bank and is trying to get more involved in it, "but I don't have a lot of time."

Jason Woody, of Bmore Clubhouse, a membership group for the mentally ill, has a budding relationship with the time bank.

"Part of our goal is to get members out in the community using their skills. It's a perfect partnership," said Woody, 30, of Patterson Park.

Woody, who travels a fair amount, would like to use the time bank personally to get rides to and from the airport, he said.

One who is not signed up yet is Schlakman's wife, Vanessa Holub, 31.

"I really want to sign up and I want my mom to sign up," Holub said. "She doesn't have a car. She cat-sits for people."

As for Holub, "It's hard to think what I can do," she said. "I write fiction, so I could probably do that. I play piano. I sing."

Said Raitzyk, "You can come to my grandson's bar mitzvah."