To Your Health

Pay It Forward

Connect and share your skills with neighbors without money ever changing hands.

Pay It Forward
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Are you feeling a bit strapped for cash but would like to enjoy a night on the town and dinner at a special restaurant? Do you need your house painted but can’t afford it? You might consider being part of the movement called Pay it Forward (PIF), also known as “TimeBanking” or “Community Exchange.” It’s taking place around the country and the world, in communities where people can connect and share their skills with neighbors without money ever changing hands. The term pay it forward was popularized in 2000 by the film of the same name. In the movie, a young schoolboy does a favor for three people, asking each of them to "pay the favor forward" by doing favors for three other people, and so on, creating a network of good deeds.

There are several models for the program, ranging from valuing the time donation alone regardless of the task performed, to valuing the service offered and trading among members. This concept of exchanging goods and services is not a new one; it’s one of the oldest means of commerce. In the current reincarnation it has been updated and repackaged so anyone who can use a computer can transact a deal. Particularly notable is that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service does not recognize this as a taxable enterprise. As long as no monetary value is assigned to the good or service, PIF flies under the regulatory radar.

Doug Reil, a managing editor for a non-profit publishing company, is one individual making a significant contribution to this effort. He has created a food sharing economy in his hometown of Albany, Calif. Reil offers produce from his and his neighbors’ backyard ‘farmlets’ to local chefs who then create meals sold at a discount to the community. Reil says this has helped encourage people to engage with those they might not otherwise come in contact with and contribute to their town’s sustainability. He credits his idea to a book called Sacred Economics by author Charles Eisenstein, who believes the current economic model has contributed to our alienation from and ruthless competition with each other.

TimeBanking originated in the United States in the 1980s and has since spread to more than 26 countries around the world with services like childcare, legal assistance, language lessons, home and car repair, as well as respite for elderly or infirmed caregivers offered on local websites. Jeanne Scheffert, a member of a newly formed TimeBank in northeast Iowa, finds it to be a great resource as well as motivator to try new things in her life. She’s had her car fixed and her yard cleaned with great results and recently tried “vision boarding” where a coach guided her through making a new intention in her life and helped her envision and collage it. Scheffert advises new users to ‘bank’ regularly and not underestimate their talents when offering their services. She cites her initial hesitancy in posting “hair braiding,” only to find it almost immediately picked up by a musician needed a hairdresser for a gig. When asked what her TimeBank does with any extra hours people don’t collect on, she responded, “We are planning a timeraiser (not fundraiser) for a local assisted living facility that wants to create a flowerbed in their garden, but cannot do the work themselves.”

The thing about paying it forward is how good people feel when they do these acts. Often, activities gradually cease being about services performed and become instead hours with friends.

So, check out what’s going on in your own community. You may finally get that annoying knock in your car fixed and meet some new friends in the process. To your Health!

Resources: Community Exchange networks Example of community garden growing and cooperative sharing in Texas Example of community exchange in Albany, Calif.