Columbia resident Bernadette Michaels never dreamed that she could have her fence repaired for free and with no hassles. Michaels' wish became a reality one Saturday afternoon a few months ago.
Michaels is one of about 170 Howard County residents who participate in the Columbia Community Exchange, better known as a time-banking program. This community activity is defined as a service-based exchange. Unlike volunteer work, all residents mutually benefit. For every hour of service each member provides, he or she also receives an hour of service. Services are traded through time-banking dollars.
"Time banking is a great way to get involved in the community and to meet new people," said Muriel Nolen, manager of Columbia Community Exchange. "It's one idea that doesn't receive criticism. How can people helping each other ever be a bad thing?"
"Nobody knows you're in pain, unless you make it known," said Priscilla Toney, a five-year Columbia resident. "This program could be very beneficial to Columbia because it encourages neighborliness and people to help each other."
Some participants are extremely enamored of the idea that they come from outside Columbia to participate. Melva Delaney of Canton has participated in the program since it began in February. "It's great that well-rounded people can help each other out," she said. "I've provided transportation to lots of different people, and in return have gotten my hair cut for free."
In the Columbia-based program, new members attend an orientation session that is held bimonthly. The session introduces members to the program and the variety of services that are offered. Members provide services that range from transportation to computer repairs.
Nolen stresses that it is important to keep the program personal. Surveys are taken after a service takes place. The program keeps a detailed database to help "make matches" of service providers and service recipients. For example, the database might note that someone is willing to provide transportation only in Howard County or detail someone's smoking habits. The program strives to make the best possible matches.
The program is one of hundreds worldwide and is an increasingly popular movement. Nolen was involved with the founding of one of the first time-banking programs in Washington in 1986. Since then, the idea has taken off nationally. There are programs in more than 40 states and about 20 countries. Columbia Community Exchange hopes to reach its goal of enrolling 200 members by its first anniversary.
"In the future, I'd like to see more localized groups," said Audrey Garven, a time-banking program specialist in the Columbia office. "I want to keep the momentum going and increase participation. I'd really like to see a network of people always helping each other come to fruition in the future."
Denise Walls, a nine-year Columbia resident, said, "Columbia is community-oriented. Time banking lets you feel like you are part of the community."
Information about Columbia's time-banking program: Muriel Nolen, 410 884-6121, or email@example.com.