For The Recorder
Thursday, July 21, 2016 http://www.recorder.com/Valley-Trade-Time-3584503
When Jennifer Rau asked a community member what she wanted for her 80th birthday, she received very specific instructions: strawberry shortcake and face paint for all the kids.
Rau, 36, was able to give the woman the birthday she wanted without spending money, thanks to Valley Time Trade. Using the mutual aid network, she found someone to paint the children’s faces.
The organization is an exchange system that allows community members to trade services, paying for them with time rather than currency. One community member will do something for someone — weed their lawn or give them computer help — to “buy” hours of service they want in return. This Saturday, the time trade will be holding a free orientation for new members at 2:30 p.m. in the meeting room at Green Fields Market, 144 Main St. in Greenfield.
“For me, it’s a way of connecting to this place, to the valley, more deeply,” said Rau, an Amherst resident who’s been participating in the organization as a trader for around five years. “It’s a way to connect to the community and places differently than if I were to go to places and pay.”
Now, Rau works as an organizer for Valley Time Trade, although she said the role isn’t incredibly taxing because the group uses sociocracy, or dynamic governance, to split up tasks and responsibilities. Since March, the time trade has adopted this new organizational structure, which splits coordinators into three separate “circles” — administrative/development, membership and IT/data. The method, Rau said, allows for an equivalence of voices and more transparency and effectiveness.
The group offers orientations once a month in both Greenfield and Northampton to primarily show new members how to interact with the web interface they can use to peruse services being offered. The orientation on Saturday will also address beginners’ fears of getting started in Valley Time Trade, Rau said; many people join but are intimidated by the anonymous nature of the online postings.
The organization has about 950 members, according to Hilary Caws-Elwitt, who assists with Valley Time Trade software. But only 300 of those members are active, meaning 650 members haven’t logged on in the past year.
Valley Time Trade is working on creating a buddy system for new members, Rau said, to encourage them past that tough first stage in integrating with the community.
Member Susan Hackney, who earns some of her hours by helping at orientation sessions, said while the anonymity of the website isn’t a deterrent to her, it is to others.
Hackney said she joined the organization in 2012, but wasn’t very involved until more recently. It was never at the forefront of her mind at first, but once she began to meet more traders and build relationships in the community, she became more involved.
“The more I meet people that I might trade with, then the more I trade,” said the Bernardston resident.
Because of this, Hackney said Valley Time Trade social events are imperative to retaining active users.
For now, Rau said the time trade will focus on making the organization smoother and livelier for those already registered. Her personal goal, she said, is also to draw in members of diverse economic statuses, races and ages.
“We want this to be more thriving, more community building, more and more active members,” Rau said.