Residents in the Hunter's Creek development in North Laurel get the best possible deal on baby-sitting -- they get it free.
The 5-year-old community has formed a network of families that watch each others' kids, called the Hunter's Creek Co-op. The 23-member organization has its own set of bylaws, a 2 1/2 -page set of rules that each member must follow in order to participate.
"It's worked out wonderfully for us," said Connie Jones, a founding member of the program, which began in September 1992. "We have no extended family in the area, and we have
RTC limited number of teen-agers in the community.
"It's a way for us to have baby-sitting services without paying," Ms. Jones said.
Both the sitters and those seeking sitters must be members of the program, which operates on a point system.
The sitters, mostly stay-at-home mothers, receive four points an hour for baby-sitting one child and two additional points for each child of the same family. Those seeking a baby sitter are charged points on the same basis.
At the end of each month, the points received for sitting and charged for using the service should add up to zero. The group's secretary keeps track.
No one, however, is required to accept a particular baby-sitting request, but the members must use the service at least once every other month. That allows them to turn down requests whenever they want or need to.
That's one of the benefits that Ms. Jones likes best, especially since she knows there are 23 sitters for an individual to choose from.
"You can have a lot of reasons to say no and not feel bad," said Ms. Jones, a mother of three. "It might be that you just don't feel like baby-sitting that day."
Hunter's Creek's program was modeled after a co-op started in Columbia's Huntington development.
Jay Schlueter joined the 15-year-old Huntington co-op in 1986 and carried the idea with her to Hunter's Creek, where she, husband Gary and their three kids Kristy, 7, Brandon, 5, and Keri, 1, now live.
"[The co-op] gives me freedom to do the things I need to do and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that my kids are going to be watched by an adult," said Ms. Schlueter, president of the Hunter's Creek co-op. "It's a great way for my kids to meet other kids. I don't mind doing the baby sitting part of it either."
Ms. Schlueter started the Hunter's Creek program by calling around to neighbors and organizing a meeting. At that time 11 people joined.
"It's really making the neighborhood close-knit," said co-op member Karina Zimmerman, a mother of two and president of the Hunter's Creek Homeowners Association. "Some people even joke that it can be more powerful than the homeowners association."