Building Community, One Hour at a Time

Earlier today Chris and I got to have lunch with an enthusiastic Lowellian working on an interesting project. Joy Mosenfelder is working for Coalition For a Better Acre, and her pet project is the Merrimack Valley Time Exchange, a really cool idea that does a lot of neat things at once.  

In essence, a Time Exchange is a system where you trade an hour of effort or expertise on your part for an hour of someone else’s. It’s an exchange system where hours, not dollars, are the currency. So for instance, if you shovel an elderly person’s driveway for an hour, you can get an hour of having your car fixed, or a ride to work. Or learn glass blowing. The idea is that it helps people connect to get their needs met within their community, and additionally helps people to find ways to contribute. Joy was especially enthusiastic about the way that it can help build connections between people in the sometimes isolated segments of the Lowell community.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project, there’s a great opportunity coming up. This Friday at 7pm you can come to Lowell Makes for an open house/potluck/music event. We’ll be there (as long as I catch the early train home from work, anyway), and I’m psyched to have a chance to learn more about both the Time Exchange and Lowell Makes in one fell swoop.

We had a nice chat with Joy about how the exchange is going, and it was really interesting to learn more about both the practical and philosophical ideas that make it work. To my ear, a huge part of what it’s trying to do is build the kind of community that would have existed in ideal moments of human history (pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers or tight-knit small towns and neighborhoods, whichever you prefer) in which people help each other constantly, with the knowledge that everything they can contribute is balanced by something they get in return. Dense tangles of help and obligation. In our modern world, everyone seems to agree, it’s very easy to get disconnected from those webs of connection. The project is a way of codifying and giving structure to the exchange of help, a lattice to help the community plant grow.

Joy told us that people have traded all sorts of things, from childcare to the rental of the 119 Gallery. She notes that the exchange could use more tradespeople, as positions like plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC are in high demand. On the other hand, if you feel like you’re not sure what you could contribute, don’t sweat it. Joy says a lot of people respond that way, and she firmly believes that everyone has something to offer. Even if you absolutely, positively have no special skills, people post looking for help with very basic tasks, or even for simple company. If you’d like to get an idea of what people trade, you can check out the board here.

They currently have 87 members, ranging in age from 17-80’s, representing 10 different cities in the area. Around a quarter of the members are low income, and the area’s diversity of language and culture is represented. It really seems like a cool way to get connected with and contribute to the community, and I hope it continues to grow in its second year the way it has in its first.

If you’d like to support the Time Exchange, they have a fundraiser going on over at Crowdtilt. Here’s their Facebook and their Twitter, and I hope to see some of you at the Friday event!

(As an aside, if you represent a Lowell business or organization you think our readers would like to hear about, feel free to contact us for a sitdown. We always enjoy learning more and chatting with interesting folks.)

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One thought on “Building Community, One Hour at a Time

  1. Pingback: Swap your Stuff, Build Community | Learning Lowell

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