The dilemma is common: You have a set of specific skills like gardening and sewing, but you are unskilled in many other areas, like carpentry and writing, and you don’t have the money to hire someone every time you need an odd job completed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ply your trade in exchange for someone else’s skill? The obstacle has always been finding someone who is an exact fit – someone who possesses the skill you lack but who also requires your skill.

Now, a nationwide trend that is taking root in Missoula appears to have found a solution to that conundrum.

The Missoula Time Bank is a service exchange community where members log hours working their specific trade, and they can redeem those hours from someone else – not necessarily the person they performed work for.

With 80 members since the group formed last year, the movement is becoming more than just a novel idea – it’s becoming an important alternative to the exchange of dollars as a way to purchase and sell labor.

“We’re a service exchange which uses time rather than money, and the thing that sets us apart, maybe not from all groups but it’s a core value, is it’s based on reciprocity,” said Susan Stubblefield, one of the group’s founders. “Everyone is an asset and everyone has something to offer. And then the other thing that’s different is all skills are valued equally, whether I’m walking someone’s dog or I can provide acupuncture or landscaping services or skilled carpentry, it’s all however many hours it takes to do the job.”

The group has an office in the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center on Higgins Avenue in Missoula for a “physical presence,” but they rely on their website, missoulatimebank.org, for everything else.

When a person joins for a cost of $25 or two hours’ worth of work, they first get an orientation. Then, they can scroll through a list of service offers and post their own offer.

From beauty and cosmetics to basic electrical work to miscellaneous legal services, there is a wide spectrum of people who are plying their trades.

“Some of the most common things are dog-sitting, pet-walking, pet care and transportation to the airport,” Stubblefield explained. “I get sewing frequently, alterations, and computer help. We have a lot of health-related services such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, craniosacral therapy, massage. There is a lot of gardening. There are things that people might be hesitant to ask a friend for help, like gardening or dog-walking. But because they put it in the time bank, that person gets hours for doing that and then they go turn in their hours for what they want. I think people are more willing to ask for help.”

Another of the group’s founders, Susie Clarion, said it’s different from trading or bartering.

“It’s kind of like paying it forward, you do it for someone else and then you can receive a service that you might need,” Clarion said. “A lot of times trading is clunky. Say, if you have something to offer someone but what you’re needing is something that someone else can provide, not that person. The beauty is you don’t have to necessarily return your hours to the same person who performed a service for you. You trade with the whole group.”

***

Sheila Lindquist retired from her job as a tax professional at the age of 51. However, she was still looking for a way to be a productive member of society. She found her answer with the time bank. On Wednesday, she was gardening for Candace Atwood in the Rattlesnake. She said she often redeems her hours for craniosacral therapy or acupuncture.

“I don’t want work for money and have to pay taxes on top of it, you know, I’d like to have a fair exchange where everybody feels good about it,” Lindquist said.

Missoula has been the perfect incubator for the experiment, which has also been successful in many cities across the world.

“I think one of the reasons this works so well in Missoula is because this is pretty trusting community,” said Carol Marsh, a member of the group. “You wouldn’t be afraid to call a stranger and invite them into your home, and you believe they can supply what they say they can supply. It works out.”

Stubblefield said that the group has gotten a great response from members.

“I think it’s the nature of this community and I think this community is very neighbor-oriented helping other people,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of people in this community who are either underemployed or unemployed or students or seniors, so it’s a great way to get services that we wouldn’t choose to purchase because we might not have the ability to purchase those.”

There is also another factor that drives people, according to Clarion.

“A lot of people have gifts and talents that may not be related to what they do vocationally,” Clarion said. “So they might really like to garden or go sailing and they might want to share that with people.”

“People may not want to do what they do for a living as their service,” Stubblefield added. “And for instance, where I live you can’t have a dog, so I love to dog-walk or dog-sit, because it gives me an opportunity to be around them.”

Sometimes, people can get life coaching or help building their resume or advice on doing a job interview.

An added benefit is that you get to meet new people in the community.

“It’s building of social community and networks so that we have people that we can call on for all different kinds of support,” Clarion said. “So it’s just not receiving. A lot of organizations provide for people in need, and that’s a good thing. But the fact that everybody gives and everybody receives is really important for all of us. We all have something to give but we also have something to receive. Many of us like to give but we like to think we don’t need anything. But this is really about both.”

Marsh said the effort is part of Transition Missoula, an organization dedicated to preparing people to be able to be self-sustaining.

“It really makes life easier,” Marsh said. “Things that you might never have gotten done, or you don’t know who you could ask. I had a heavy piece of furniture that I needed moved from one side of the room to another, and I couldn’t do it myself. I needed a special pillowcase made because I have a large pillow for back problems. I’ve done copy-editing. I copy-edited a guy’s application to law school. It was fun.”

All three women say trading their skills has been a rewarding experience.

“It’s been an extremely rich community experience for me personally as a member,” Clarion said.

The group will be holding a pint night fundraiser on Tuesday, Sept. 2, at Tamarack, and the group will be also hosting a raffle on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at Draught Works.

For more information visit the Missoula Time Bank on Facebook or at missoulatimebank.org, or email info@missoulatimebank.org or call 543-0531.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@missoulian.com.

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