When Ron Williams first learned about timebanking, he thought it was a nice idea – a bit like barter, he thought. He gave it no more mind than that. But then life stepped in. Or rather, four tooth extractions all at the same time, stepped in. Ron’s gums hurt. A lot. The dentist said that for the next few weeks, he would only be able to eat soft foods.

Not fun for a busy art teacher working with lots of high-energy young children each day.

The school where Ron teaches art is Cook Elementary School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Located in an area of deep and persisting poverty, it’s a school that has long been struggling.

It’s hard for children to thrive and focus on learning when every day is a struggle just to get by.

A year ago, the new principal appointed to lead the school opened the school to timebanking as a way to encourage parents to get involved.

As a teacher, Ron was new to the school.  Among the small number of longstanding grandparents and parents who volunteered to help over the years was Flossie Jackson.  Also known as Gigi.

It just so happened that Gigi’s grandchildren, Lamar and Monquie, were in Ron’s class.  Gigi and Ron got to meet.

Lean and lanky, wearing dreadlocks, Ron has a passion for teaching art to elementary level children.  His belief is this: if you teach art well – if you teach poetry, painting, dance, music – then young children will gain a love of learning and the ability to express themselves powerfully and well in ways that will lift them into new possibilities in life.

Ron’s passion on this front is unmistakeable; it pours out from him.  And Gigi could not miss it.  But Gigi is like the other side of the coin: she is utterly determined that her grandchildren will get a good education, so that they can step strongly into worlds of possibility when they grow up.

In Ron and Gigi, there were two determined people with strongly aligned goals and ideals.  But there was also something else going on here: the timebank.

Through her experience with the timebank, Gigi had come to see into possibilities with new, asset-seeking, win-win seeking eyes. She saw Ron’s gifts.  She saw his need.  And like any good entrepreneur would do, she determined that need and possibility should meet. She reached out to Ron with an offer.

Gigi loves to cook. Ron needed special food. They both wanted art to become a transformational tool in children’s lives – for Gigi, her own grandchildren, for Ron, the children in his class.  So here was her timebank offer: if Ron would tutor her two grandchildren after school, she would cook him two meals of soft food every day – a stream of delicious soft food until his gums were fully healed.

Ron took the deal. The weeks went by – Ron and Gigi stuck by their side of the bargain. And as they did, magic happened.

Ron learned that the two boys he was coaching are naturally gifted performers. He learned too that they love learning; and they learn fast. Really fast. Really, really fast.  In fact, faster than he had ever seen in any other children. He was in awe.

Ron started to enter the boys into public performances. The boys loved it.  The three became a team with Ron as the coach. And all along, Gigi continued to cook him delicious meals. As Ron began connecting with the boys and they to him, the whole idea of timebanking for him grew a new life.   Not barter, but something so much more. He saw it as an open door to relationships and possibilities. “It joins you together.”  He says it with a big grin and a joyous, infectious laugh.

That’s the end of the story – but it’s also far from the end.  Watch for part 2 tomorrow!