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It's time for a Concord time bank

Concord needs a time bank. Antrim has had one for several years. Warner started one in 2009. Portland, Maine, has had one with hundreds of members who have swapped more than 150,000 hours of labor. Opening a time bank may not solve society's problems, but it could be a way to save money, build community and address the long-term care needs of an aging population.

Here's how a time bank works: Drive a senior citizen to a doctor's appointment, and thereby earn an hour that can be banked and spent on an hour of lawn care, babysitting services, help setting up a wireless network or any other services or goods that members have to offer. Because it's an hour-for-hour trade, no cash involved, income in Time Dollars is, according to the IRS, tax free.

Credit the concept of the modern time bank and its Time Dollars to Edgar Cahn, a Yale Law School graduate who went on to become a speech writer for Robert Kennedy, a pioneer in poverty law, and founder of the National Legal Services Program, the Antioch School of Law, TimeBanksUSA and Carebanks.

Cahn wanted to do an end-run around money, one that would expand on the desire on the part of most people to help others, but do so in a way that each participant would get something in return. No member in a time bank, no matter how wealthy, can give but not receive. The system operates on the premise that everyone has something to give and everyone needs something some else can offer.

When life was simpler and people more closely connected, enrollment in what today are called time banks was almost automatic. Neighbors helped each other with haying, corn shucking, barn raising, maternity care and other life chores. In more recent times, in places where neighbors know their neighbors, the practice continues. Friends mow lawns or shovel driveways for friends who are away, share child care, or help each other in countless other ways.

Such networks have dwindled in our more frenzied and atomized society, but they are being recreated with time banks.

There are now more than 65 time banks operating in the United States, according to the national organization TimeBanks.org. Their proliferation even piqued the interest of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which featured an article about them in one of its publications that explained how free, open-source software like Community Weaver plus computers make it easy for just a couple of people or a small organization to do the math and make the matches between members that make a time bank work. Time banks are not completely pie in the sky. Most, including the one in the Warner area with 35 members, require at least one face-to-face meeting with a staff member plus some vetting and training.

Who will be the first in Concord to step up and create a time bank? It won't replace money, but it could address some of the growing needs of a population that wants to age in place. It's a way for all of us to save money, meet people and help someone else, all while banking savings of the most human kind.

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