New Spin on Old Idea: People Aiding Others Earn `Time Dollars'

By Laura Randall, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 15, 1992 | Go to article overview

New Spin on Old Idea: People Aiding Others Earn `Time Dollars'


Laura Randall, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE concept is "as old as the hills," says Hattie Pender, manager of a senior citizen's home here. Help a neighbor, and then a neighbor will help you.

Only now, in 80 communities across the country, this form of volunteering comes with a title, a coordinator, a computer system, and a $15,000 to $120,000 budget, depending on location.

The mechanics of the Time Dollars program are simple: A church, hospital, or other organization sets up a computer network of volunteers. When people need help, they call a program coordinator, who then assigns volunteers interested in performing the tasks. Volunteers report their hours and get credits they can later draw upon when they need someone to perform a volunteer task for them.

Services range from baby-sitting to home repair to sewing lessons. Whatever type of work the volunteer does, one hour of service equals one hour of credit.

* When a bachelor in Milwaukee fixes an elderly woman's garage door, his payment is having his torn pants pocket sewn.

* When pre-teenage girls in St. Louis read to senior citizens, the favor is returned by other Time Dollars volunteers who give the girls rides to the mall or the movies.

* When participants in Brooklyn build up enough service credits, they can swap them to pay for part of their annual health-insurance premium.

"It's a win-win situation," says Edgar Cahn, a professor at the District of Columbia Law School, who initiated the program. "You can look out for yourself by looking out for others."

Funding for Time Dollars comes mainly from community grants and organizations like United Way and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Last month, the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging agreed to grant $300,000 for three new Time Dollars programs.

Professor Cahn came up with the concept of Time Dollars while lying in a hospital bed in 1981. "I was feeling useless and not liking it," he says. After his recovery, he approached hospitals and social service organizations about adopting his method of volunteering.

By 1987, Time Dollars programs were launched in Miami, Brooklyn, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, and St. …

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