LANSING - Technological advances combined with the current dreary economic climate have created an environment for a new kind of bank.
These banks never see money. Instead they rely on a medium of exchange called "time dollars."
A time bank is a community exchange system where members provide services to each other in exchange for time dollars.
According to Kim Hodge, founder of the Michigan Alliance of Timebanks in Lathrup Village, they are unique because everyone's time is treated equally, whether a 6-year-old or an attorney. And if someone does something for someone else, there's no expectation for the service to be repaid.
"It's more like a pay-it-forward system," she said.
Hodge founded the state's first one, the Lathrup Village Timebank, in 2008.
Users connect through a computer database that lets them post skills and needs. That's why Hodge said technology has aided the time banking process.
She said technology contributes to the appeal of a crucial feature of time banks: community.
"The more we get into technology and televisions and the Internet and phones and texting, the less we are able to communicate with each other in person. Time banks provide a way for us to be able to," she said.
There are eight time banks in Michigan with around 300 participants, she said.
Some are in Royal Oak, Southfield, Ferndale, Detroit and Grand Rapids. Residents of Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Grand Blanc, Lansing and Holland have expressed interest as well, she said.
With 33 members, Timebank Grand Rapids is one of the smaller ones.
Oakdale Neighbors director Tom Bulten said that growth has been slow because getting people interested in sharing services is a challenge. Oakdale Neighbors is a nonprofit community development organization that hosts the time bank.
Regardless of size, Bulten said Timebank Grand Rapids makes a difference.
"One woman was having a problem with her computer and asked another member to repair it, and she was really grateful. Others have appreciated the interaction. For a group project that we did, four of us raked the leaves for another member, and that was just a positive experience," he said.
With listed skills such as tennis and sports lessons, good conversation, transportation, childcare and euchre lessons, Hodge is a prime example of an active time-banker.
This year another member did her taxes. In the past, she learned to use Facebook, had her wedding planned, got a massage, learned how to garden and took photography lessons from fellow members. She said that while community interaction is an attractive aspect of time banks, the economy also prompts people to join.
"People don't have the same kind of money that they have had before, and so being able to connect with people who can provide services is a real value," she said.
Tawni Ferrarini, associate professor of economics at Northern Michigan University, said unemployment is a factor in the popularity of time banks.
"One of the reasons you see time banks growing during recessions is because unemployment is up. People aren't working 40 hours to 50 hours a week, so they have more time on their hands and a productive person is a productive person," she said.
Ferrarini, however, said she doubts that the current momentum behind time banks will sustain itself once employment increases.
"There's only so many hours in a day, and you have family, recreation and health issues to balance in unison with your commitment to the time bank. I would think that as the economy starts to pick up, you're going to see the time bank hours decrease," she said.