Kathy Perlow is one of the three founding members of TimeForAll, a TimeBank dedicated to helping coordinators help coordinators. While she started with the Community Exchange TimeBank in Allentown, PA, she has since retired and is now co-heading the Mutual Aid Network. She has spent her entire career working with healthcare issues and expanding the system to work within the community. Below is an interview with Kathy: blue font indicates Kathy’s words, black indicates the interviewer’s summaries of Kathy’s answers, and questions put to Kathy are in bold.
To start off, could you tell me 3 words that you would use to describe TimeBanking?
Friends, love, and family
How long have you been involved with TimeBanking?
Since October 1999
You are currently starting a mutual aid network also in the Allentown area, however as you were the Community Exchange coordinator for nearly 15 years I would like to focus the first part of the interview on your work with Community Exchange and then lead into your current work with the Mutual Aid Network. So, how did you become a timebank coordinator?
Summary of Kathy’s Response: Kathy was working part time at Lehigh Senior Center — they were one of the 13 founding member organizations at Timebanks to resolve healthcare issues. She was always hearing about timebanking, timebanking, timebanking, so she researched it, a role opened up for a part-time data coordinator, she jumped at the position, and eventually became head coordinator for the timebank.
First, for context, I would like to ask you a couple of questions about Community Exchange: I see that it has about 694 members, it is supported by the Lehigh Valley Health Network, and the mission states that: “We use the principles of TimeBanks USA (TM) to cultivate and sustain a supportive social network based on reciprocity and respect to improve the health and well-being of the community.” I really want to get into your story, but very briefly in a few sentences, could you illustrate to me how the timebank has achieved that mission?
Summary: By being a part of a large hospital health network, Kathy was able to see how they could help those who did not have a support network. That was what brought Timebanking into play! They could use the core values of TimeBanking, especially reciprocity.
Kathy: People felt valued and it was huge!
Can you share with me the greatest 2 achievements you have witnessed in your TimeBanking life?
Kathy: TimeBanking helped someone who was not able to hold a job most of her life to get a job and an apartment, and stand on her own two feet. Because of TimeBanking, she gained friends. It’s just beautiful. She just got a raise and was promoted. It is because we gave her that chance and opportunity and worked with her… I’m so proud of her and all the milestones that she has overcome. She has become a dear, dear friend.
My second achievement is that so many people were brought together who would have never met each other. These people have become support networks, so even if timebanking goes away, they will still be there for each other. It is beautiful to see happen and beautiful to see it continue happening.
It’s just close to my heart because I got to see it grow, I got to see it blossom, and continue to see it to this day.
What has been the top 2 or 3 challenges you – or Community Exchange – have faced?
Summary: The first challenge is the difficulty in working in a top-down leadership model — many of the above leaders have difficulty in understanding what TimeBanking is. And there was also the challenge of having to train new employees (leadership especially) about TimeBanking and its core values. While it was frustrating, these challenges have helped her decide to move on to do bigger and better things.
Secondly, by working within a large healthcare network, Kathy has had to work within their guidelines.
Kathy: I was a hospital employee yet doing community work. How do you make those two meet?
This meant she couldn’t fill all the requirements — like make sure everyone had a flu shot — and had to do a lot of work-arounds.
Kathy: However, it taught me to bring it to the community and house it in the community. It can’t run in an institution, it needs to be community driven.
You will have many, many member stories – but of them all, can you share with me one or two of them that have most powerfully impacted you as a coordinator – and why these stories are so meaningful to you.
Summary: Her first story begins with one member who was a part of the medical transportation program, WheelTime, which would give rides to doctor’s appointments and such. She noticed this one particular woman would receive a lot of medical rides and she would hear these really nice stories from the people who were driving her. Kathy decided to speak to her and found out that she had a lot of medical problems.. so Kathy suggested timebanking. While the woman did not think she would be able to participate and reciprocate, Kathy insisted that she would get her into TB and find her place. “That’s up to me to figure that out. Don’t you worry about that!”
It was on a visit to her house that she discovered that the woman paints the most lovely pysanky eggs and immediately suggested she teach a class on how to paint these wonderful eggs. So the woman brings out her painting and some goodies to munch on and it turns out she’s a fabulous baker! “Can you do some classes for us?” Kathy asks. And she did. And she eventually baked for a member’s wedding reception with time credits.
Unfortunately, “she has since passed away but she did not pass away lonely.” She was surrounded by the lovely members she had met and befriended while doing timebanking. “They were her family. ”
After she passed, they realized that she left one of her eggs for each and every person who had come into contact with her and meant something in her life.
What was important to Kathy was that the woman had formed her network of people.
Kathy: She came into it thinking she had nothing of value to share with anyone. Most important thing about Timebanking is letting people realize what they can do.
Kathy’s second story was about another woman who had built up a wonderful rapport with a bunch of members. So when she was later diagnosed with ALS, a group of members were waiting to help her. Kathy, herself, saves and sends her TimeBank flyers and brochures that feature the woman’s picture whenever she hears she is feeling down so that she can remember how she has impacted so many lives.
Before she was diagnosed, she was Kathy’s right-hand man, especially in fundraising and special events. Together, they would throw these fabulous events — so having the ability to share those memories with her now is powerful.
Kathy: It brings a smile to her face.
As I mentioned earlier, I know you are moving to start the Mutual Aid Network (MAN), how does the MAN differ from TimeBanking? How do they fit in with each other?
Kathy: MAN adds on to Timebanking. But Timebanking is a big piece of it. It uses Timebanking currency and it is a requirement to use Timebanking core values.
MAN opens up avenues …when clients have problems with bedbugs, and have to get rid of furniture…where are they supposed to get money for furniture?… MAN allows them to borrow money from the savings and lending pool to buy furniture and pay it back either in time or in money.
Because of the Community Health Center’s population, Kathy felt Timebanking was the right fit with MAN and embraced timebanking. As long as timebanking is a big piece of MAN she is all for it.
From MAN, she has learned the importance of getting the organization more out into the community. MAN can work within the community without money.
Kathy: If people can’t give back right away, MAN can still help them.
However, the biggest thing for Kathy was that MAN embraced Timebanks core values.
What would be a top coordinator or timebank founder tip you would like to share with others?
Kathy: TALK TO AS MANY COORDINATORS BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, LEARN FROM THEIR EXPERTISE. It is nice to share and have support.
Now, moving to TimeForAll, you founded TimeForAll, a timebank dedicated to helping TimeBank coordinators help one another and you are also a member of the TimeBanks USA governing board
- What is your personal vision for TimeBanking for the future?
- And how would you step forward into making that happen?
Summary: Kathy sees TimeForAll and TimeBanking expanding with more visionaries the longer time coordinators are actually physically doing it.
Kathy: Timebanking can be used in so many other ways that we have not even begun to think about. We are in a movement right now where timebanking can — in so many ways — be a part of our community and break down barriers. This is needed everywhere.
Furthermore, preserving integrity of TimeBanking is so important. I have felt this need in founding TimeForAll. It is so important to keep the true story, its origin, and where it started. It is nice to know the real story and not see it change.
MAN is also using TimeBanking and we need to talk the same talk. We need to find a support system and we all need each other. We do. We are not an I we are an we. The more we’s we have the better off we will be.
It is important to bring together people who are knowledgeable in the healthcare arena and gathering that information in one place to share it — talking collectively in a group allows so many different ideas and perspectives. We can see roads cross. And because healthcare is an important issue, we can incorporate other problems and see more benefits. Other people will start noticing.
We saw TimeForAll as a way to bring people back together who weren’t playing in the sandbox and let’s start playing in the sandbox again and see where it takes us! We made some strides there and we plan to continue to make these strides and it will grow.
It will eventually grow.
Since TimeForAll is about helping coordinators, how do you personally see your role in helping TimeForAll achieve its mission in helping others?
Summary: Kathy has worked on a Health and Wellness piece with Stacey and Abby.
Kathy: We need to start doing a better job on getting information out to people who really need it. There are a lot of social media avenues but we don’t have a good handle on them yet. This is one of the things that TimeForAll needs to help with.
You have coached many members. Would you be willing to continue to couch? What amount of time might you be able to offer? What type of coaching would you be interested in?
Summary: Kathy can help with regards to health care, although it is changing. She has volunteered before with MAN concerning the precise medical wording in documents. She is an essential resource because she has and knows that background. She has a lot to offer for someone new and she can provide any time they need.
Kathy: I will help people as long as they need help.
But we need to gather information and get it in a place for everyone to build on each other and work together.
End of Interview
I would like to thank Kathy Perlow for her time and her inspiring words — thank you for volunteering to be the first of my interviewees~. I would also like to thank Christine Gray for making this project happen, and for her edits and critique.
Community Exchange: https://tdn.timebanks.org/
TimeForAll : https://timeforall.timebanks.org/
Mutual Aid Network: http://www.mutualaidnetwork.org/