By: Nicole Bañales

Stories: The Heartbeat of TimeBanking

16 June 2016



Stories are powerful tools. They inspire, amaze, motivate, get a toddler to sleep after a nightmare — and they also connect us together in unforeseen ways.  

It was Thursday evening — the end of a long work day — and Edgar, Chris, and I were at Community Family Life Services to introduce the community to Timebanking.  People started trickling into the meeting room — guarded and closed off — either fiddling with their cell phones or sitting there, their face a blank slate.

A few smiled at us as they walked in but overall there was a disconnection between the members and us. Here we were — three outsiders — intruding into their space and community to give a presentation that to them was just another program.

A child to the world of timebanking myself, I had only seen timebanking in its mature, full bloom stage  —  here the seed had not even been planted yet.

How were we going to break down this barrier?

The Meeting

Drawing a tree on the whiteboard, Chris laid out the basics of timebanking — the core values as the roots, the leadership as the trunk, and the leaves the skills and values people can offer to the community.

Chris sat down at the table with the members and Chris and Edgar started sharing personal stories — how Edgar developed timebanking after his heart attack, how people are not worthless, how Chris motivated herself to do a paint job on time credits — and soon it was no longer a presentation, but a discussion.

It wasn’t what they were saying that changed the feeling in the room — it was how they said it. Chris speaks in a way that is honest and personable. Edgar has a way of speaking that elicits respect — he pulls on these simple but strong metaphors that capture the attention of anyone who is listening. Both of their narratives were a perfect mixture of inspiration and humor — but always remaining true to the real depth of the stories.

Chris and Edgar were talking not as Timebank founders or coordinators — but as people. And the people around the table responded. Slowly at first but quickly gaining momentum, the atmosphere changed. There was feedback from the members — nodding, quiet laughter, empathy. The members’ eyes became alive with interest, engagement.

Hands starting rising. They started sharing examples of what they needed — home rearrangement for a new baby, advertising for a small business — and the floodgates opened. Instead of hesitantly raising their hands to ask questions, they started conversations. When asked who would be interested in joining the leadership board — hands immediately sprung up.

We weren’t at an introductory meeting anymore. This was a community gathering.

Although starting a timebank is like jumping out into the unknown — success is never guaranteed. However, by the interest the members expressed in creating a timebank, how members stayed after the meeting to ask questions, how they had opened up — you can tell there is hope that this timebank will work.

My own experience

I have struggled countless times to explain timebanking to people who ask me what I am doing this summer.

To get people to understand the basics — one hour is equal to one hour — is simple, but it doesn’t get at the heart of timebanking. From my time interning here at Timebanks USA and from talking to coordinators across the country I have come to understand the power that true narratives provide — that lightbulb a-ha moment of realization that THIS is what timebanking does. That’s why stories are the heartbeat to timebanking — it’s the proof that there is actual human life pounding away inside timebanking. And the community members at Community Family Life Services heard that heartbeat.

A Timebanking First

31 May 2016

Today was a day of many firsts: my first official day with TimeBanks, my first time at a food bank, and my first visit to Safeway.

I set out with Christine Gray in the rising summer heat — something I am still not used to coming from the dry El Paso summers — as we drove to the OSCAB timebank — Our Sharing Community at Bread — which was founded as a member-led timebank for clients of the food-bank, and is co-sponsored by Bread for the City and TimeBanks USA. On the way to OSCAB, Christine filled me in with the challenges of maintaining a timebank, particularly in a community where the members are constantly experiencing various changes in their daily lives. As Chris stopped the car, I was unsure of what to expect.

Glancing up from the dashboard, a large mural instantly caught my eye painted on the wall of a building — a beautiful whirlwind of color, a beaming child’s face, a dove, and “One People…One Community…Building Together.” The food bank.



Stepping into the building, we quickly moved on to the OSCAB meeting room, where I was greeted by a wave of unfamiliar faces. These faces eventually became people: Herbert, Tyronne, and Karen.

While the room had started to fill with various conversations — people giving and receiving help, advice, and chatter– everything was quieted down so Miss Edwards could share her news of her most recent timebanks exchange: how Mr. Herbert had carried pieces of furniture, miles and miles in the sweltering humid heat, to her house for two weekends.

For me, this was my first glimpse at how TimeBanking works, how community is needed to build these relationships of giving and receiving. I saw first-hand how wonderful it is to present to a person like Herbert his digital TimeBanking certificate of completed hours and see his face light up. A magical moment.

Another magical moment occurred later on during the luncheon meeting. It was a full house — chairs cozied up next to each other — and the meeting began with introductions around the table: your name and how you helped the community this past week.

Anxiety and doubt filled the room and my stomach.

“What had I done this weekend to help somebody?”

“What if I hadn’t done anything?”

These thoughts floated around the room and in my head as I frantically thought of what I had done the week before I arrived as an intern to TimeBanks.

But as people started sharing, as everyone was given a bit of time to reflect and hear the stories of their peers or of people they had never met before, the atmosphere in the room relaxed. People started to support each other, nodding their heads, or giving short praises. It was wonderful.

I remembered how the day before I left to D.C. my grandmother made me her specialty enchiladas with fideo, and how I was able to repay her through washing the dishes and talking with her in my broken Spanish. Through sharing this short snippet of my life, I not only was able to become a part of the collection of stories, but I was also able to remember my part in my own community back home, my own way of giving and receiving.

Overall, this visit to the Bread for the City TimeBank was a great first glimpse in viewing how TimeBanking works on the ground and not in an office or in a book setting. I am glad and excited to be working with incredible people and ideas that are finding reality within blossoming communities of people. Thank you for welcoming me into the OSCAB TimeBanks as well as the TimeBanking world in general.