|The Community Connections logo highlights the time-banking concept: one hour of service earns one time credit, which may be exchanged for one of more than 400 services offered by members.|
Let’s say you throw your back out and can’t shovel your driveway. Maybe you volunteered to arrange some garden flowers for your niece’s wedding, but you’re a little rusty in your technique. Alternatively, perhaps you would like to learn how to Skype on your computer or get a load of branches hauled to the cogeneration plant.
If you are a member of Community Connections, a Plumas County time bank, where members earn time credits by exchanging services with each other, you can receive these services for free!
One hour of service equals one time credit, and all member services are equal. That means you might teach a two-hour class on bread-baking and cash in your two time credits for a massage and having your windshield wipers changed.
Are you already a busy volunteer? If so, chances are you can get credit for the services you are providing and cash those credits in for something you need.
Leslie Wall teaches parenting classes as part of her job at Plumas Rural Services. About five years ago, Wall began Community Connections as a way for people to help others in their community.
The CC brochure Wall created includes a quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world … Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
PRS, a private nonprofit organization, is the umbrella under which CC, and 16 other services, operates.
Plethora of services
The mission of CC is “to connect people, strengthen families and build communities through the exchange of services.”
With more than 400 services offered by 256 members countywide, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Service categories include arts and crafts, babysitting, business services, computer assistance, cooking, gardening, healthy lifestyles, home maintenance, pet care, recreation and transportation.
An individual membership costs $20 to join and $10 to renew each year. Junior memberships are free for kids under age 18.
Currently 44 business, organization and group sponsors pay $100 a year to support the program as well as receive services from members.
The California Highway Patrol became a sponsor in November 2011.
Recently, Wall received an emergency request for transportation from an elderly member who needed to get to the doctor’s office.
Wall sent out the request via email to the members signed up to provide transportation services. CHP public information officer Lacey Heitman saw the request and phoned Wall to say she would send a patrol car to provide the service.
Organizations such as schools, hospitals, churches, museums, 4-H, chambers of commerce and the Feather River College rodeo team have put their $100 down and contributed toward making their communities more self-sustaining, friendly and affordable.
Coordinator Wall said, “We’ve only just touched the surface of what we can do.”
Members range in age from 8 to 91, and provide a wide and rich range of services and opportunities to volunteer.
Change the paradigm
Wall wants to change the paradigm of “community service,” to transform the stigma of it being a punishment for juvenile delinquents and criminals into a privilege to help other people.
Many high school students have a community service requirement for graduation. CC is an opportunity for them to volunteer a host of services to any number of community members or organizations.
One such student is Tyler Strahl, who graduated from Quincy High in 2012. For his senior project, he organized a group of friends and provided many hours of community services at the fairgrounds — painting, raking and cleaning up flowerbeds.
He and his friends also solicited donations from local businesses to collect $100 to pay for the annual sponsorship fee for the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds, thereby allowing the community to continue to support the fairgrounds after the students’ project was over.
Plumas District Hospital is another sponsoring business that utilizes Community Connections as the vehicle for hundreds of volunteer hours necessary to make its supporting thrift store a success.
“I love, love, love the concept of people helping each other out,” said Wall. Her enthusiasm is catching, and she has garnered awards and grants for CC.
The organization received the Sustainability Award from FRC and Plumas Corp. in 2011.
About a year ago, Wall saw an Archstone Foundation grant opportunity offering millions of dollars to create a “village” concept for senior citizens.
CC applied and was chosen as one of 12 organizations in the nation to receive the grant, totaling $100,000 over two years.
Wall went to national conferences in Atlanta and Los Angeles to participate in the development of senior village concepts, where aging seniors can live in place (the village) and receive all the services they need — many of them from each other.
Now in the second year of the grant, Wall is working with UC Berkeley, gathering data, developing business solutions and exploring innovative approaches to sustainability, membership retention and strategic partnership strategies.
The Village to Village Network aims “to help older Americans maintain a sense of independence and dignity as they remain in their home and communities,” according to grant funders.
Time banking is growing worldwide. There are approximately 300 time banks in the United States.
Last year alone, 11 new time banks started in San Francisco. Time banks provide opportunities for communities to deal with a failing economy. “People pick up the pieces,” Wall said. “It goes back to helping each other.”
With 256 members, representing more than 1 percent of Plumas County’s population, Community Connections is proving that the village concept is a viable possibility.
Wall told how other conference-goers laughed when they heard the low membership dues Plumas County CC was charging. Other groups charge up to hundreds of dollars for individual memberships and more than $1,000 for sponsors.
Wall acknowledges that the organization is not financially sustainable, but she believes that finding grants and other funding sources to supplement member contributions is better for the community.
About a quarter of CC’s members are seniors. The No. 1 reason that seniors join is to be of value to the community, Wall said. They want to be needed.
The contributions of seniors are vital to the existence of such programs as library story hours, animal shelters and the Mohawk Community Resource Center.
Since July 1, 2012, more than 6,500 hours have been exchanged. A growing number of people want to give back to their community, to “pay it forward,” Wall said.
“CC is not looking to supplant or replace services, rather to fill in the gap.”
To keep abreast of what each community needs, Wall reads all of the county newspapers to keep informed of events and needs of residents.
Wall makes many referrals to the appropriate social service or business. For instance, if a member wants to remodel her bathroom, she could use a time credit for a free consultation with a general contractor or plumber who is also a member.
Many such consultations lead to new clients for the business owner. With the recent cold snap, Wall has received numerous calls about frozen or broken pipes. She can put out the call to members, and a volunteer with some expertise in dealing with plumbing can evaluate the situation.
If the job is beyond a simple repair, a referral is made for professional help. Community Connections only provides services that would not pose potential liability problems.
Once a year CC sponsors a member “swap meet and eat.” Members bring 10 items they no longer need or want. At the end of the event, members swap for items they want. Any leftovers are donated.
Wall is excited about new opportunities and developments in CC. This summer CC will sponsor a “repair café,” a concept adopted from a group in the Netherlands.
People bring items that need repair, tools and expertise to do the repairs. This keeps broken or damaged items out of landfills and saves resources and money.
Go to http://www.plumasruralservices.org/ and click on Community Connections to learn more or join the growing time bank community.
Or call Leslie Wall at 283-3611, ext. *818.
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