TimeBank helps Detroit residents trade help, goodwill

Dan B. Jones
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — A southwest community is celebrating a decade of trading time and goodwill. 

The Unity in Our Community TimeBank was founded in 2009 as a "network of neighbors, local businesses and community organizations that is creating a better world through relationships based on need and reciprocity, rather than profit," TimeBank coordinator Alice Bagley said.

The group's nearly 800 members log their exchanges and browse available services through the TimeBank website. When a member spends an hour helping out someone else in the community, they earn an hour that can be spent taking a class, attending a workshop or having someone else provide them a favor.

TimeBank members performing maintenance and repairs on a member's home.

Jennie Weakley, both a member of the TimeBank and its steering committee, turned to the effort because she "really felt unsupported" as a single parent.

The life-long Detroiter said she'd witnessed first-hand how race, ethnicity and class can fracture a community and "didn't want that for my daughter."

As one of her first "trades," Weakley called on fellow TimeBank member Hanan Yahya to take Weakley and her daughter to a mosque. Yahya and other relatives of her Yemeni family have been active participants since the program here began. 

"I wanted my daughter to learn about others in all their diversity, to have Hanan take us to mosque, to teach us something," Weakley said. “Through that trip to mosque, I fell in love with Hanan’s sister who has become one of my good friends, and her daughter has become one of my daughter’s best friends. It’s a really beautiful thing to say, ten years later, that I still get to see these two young women and the friendship that has blossomed."

In the past decade, Weakley has rendered many services through the exchange, including household repairs and providing rides to and from the airport.  

There are several TimeBanks throughout the region, with the first being the Lathrup Village TimeBank, said Bagley, adding "as a member of the Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks, we are now one of five active organizations."

The TimeBank is dedicated to neighbors in the Chadsey Condon, Corktown, Hubbard Farms and Springwells Village communities, hosting orientation and events in a variety of spaces including local watering holes, community centers and private homes, officials said. 

Yahya said her deep engagement with the community helped lead her to a position serving the southwest Detroit district an aide to Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López.

“It’s just so valuable to be able to find community and connection with your neighborhood," said Yahya, 25. "I didn’t see that opportunity exist before the TimeBank.”

Castañeda-López, who represents City Council District 6, attended a recent anniversary party for TimeBank at Plaza del Sol on Vernor, iterating the value of the unique alternative economy in her community. 

“There’s a lot of folks who have skills and things to offer but maybe don’t have the income to be able to financially compensate their neighbors for the different services they are looking for…," she said. "The TimeBank benefits the southwest community specifically because sometimes there’s barriers, be they financial, geographic or transportation related, that prevent people from accessing those services in other ways.”   

Beyond building friendships, TimeBank has become a helpful tool for those with stretched resources in a city where nearly 40% of its population below the poverty level.

Bagley shared the story of a family that endured a fire several years ago that left their home gutted. They had no insurance, she said, and only a paltry of $2,000 from the Red Cross to help get back on their feet. 

Two relatives of the family had been TimeBank members, prompting others in the community involved to show up in force and help rebuild their home, she said. 

Home repair, Bagley said, is a "major unmet need" in the community. 

“Over our many projects and through the years, the TimeBank has acquired a number of tools, to create a tool library for members," said Bagley, adding the TimeBank hopes to add more tools and storage and identify additional funding for maintenance.