Onion River Exchange enhances local economy through respect and equality

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You ever wanted to feel like your time was as valuable as everyone else’s? Well, there’s a group serving Central Vermont that prides itself on that tenet.

Since it began in 2008, the Onion River Exchange has encouraged the exchange of a simple type of currency that everyone can afford – time. Over 33,000 Community Credits (hours) have been exchanged since ORE’s creation. ORE has over 500 members from 28 towns in Central Vermont.

"It’s so important because number one, everyone’s time is equal. So it’s not just a program you buy into. It really proposes that everyone has value and everyone’s time is equal. The services we exchange are services that you really cannot buy,” ORE Outreach Coordinator Heather Kralik said. “You can go to the time bank and either get your needs met or you can get inspired. All of this is without the exchange of money, so it’s a big feeling of abundance.”

While traditional economy can be isolating at times, especially when purchasing products online, time banking brings the human interaction back to the forefront and builds community.

Time bankers exchange anything from teaching language lessons to shoveling driveways to running errands to planning weddings. The options are nearly endless, and that’s what newcomers have trouble understanding.

"The problem has been that the concept of time banking is a difficult concept for some people to grasp. It usually takes repeated exposure, so it really sinks in that it’s a really great thing,” Kralik said. “Or a lot of people might think that it’s a cool concept, but they don’t really understand on a practical level how that can happen.”

That happened with Barre resident Bernadette Rose, a longtime member of ORE.

"Some folks at the church I attended had a display and were telling people about ORE. They had been working together to form it,” Rose said. “I think I had to hear about it a couple of times to really notice it. I was new to that community, and also saw it as a way to get to know people better. I like the idea of exchange without money. The third reason, is that I do lots of little things for folks, but when I need help, it was hard to find back then.”

Rose, who uses the exchange for everything from rides to appointments, gardening help and even giving herself a fun birthday party after thinking she wasn't going to survive a health scare, is just one example of someone making the most of the exchange.

With more than 10,000 exchanges across 80 categories over the years, ORE certainly provides repeated exposure for members to grasp the benefits. But the group wants to benefit a far greater number.

That’s why word of mouth is so important. ORE also participates in outreach through workshops and presentations. A fundraiser last fall increased the organization’s visibility.

ORE got a membership bump in 2012 when it joined with Reach Service Exchange Network, a time bank in Central Vermont with a focus on elders and those with disabilities. Kralik said ORE is getting about 15-20 new members per month and members exchange over 350 hours a month, making it the largest time bank in the state. The demographic of the group is also changing.

"Before it was more middle-aged and elderly, but the membership is getting increasingly younger,” Kralik said. “I think it’s very encouraging. The younger members are just really enthusiastic about things changing.”

Membership dues are based on a sliding scale for individual, household and organization memberships. Membership fees go to pay rent and toward the expense of using Community Weaver, the computer software that runs the exchange. ORE also holds fundraising events, applies for grants and asks for donations. ORE received a $1,000 Seed grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund in 2013.

Vermont Center for Integrated Herbalism recently joined ORE as an organizational member, which will be offering herbal consultations using time banking hours. VCIH also received a NEGEF Seed grant in June in order to build a 240-square foot herbal display garden in Montpelier. The non-profit believes “herbal medicine has the power not only to heal the individual, but also to address the broad dysfunctions in our culture that have at their root a deep disconnection from Nature.”

Like the Brattleboro Time Trade in Southern Vermont, ORE is finding ways to branch out into the environmental and energy arenas. ORE was awarded an $8,150 grant award from Efficiency Vermont in May to install energy efficiency measures in a minimum of 40 households, to expand a lending library of efficiency tools and weatherization materials, and to host educational workshops in Montpelier and surrounding towns.

"If the current members are really engaged and enjoying what the Onion River Exchange has to offer, then they tell other members,” Kralik said. “In the Onion River Exchange, we’re not just individuals. We also include businesses and organizations. Besides membership satisfaction, we want to really encourage successful partnerships.”

For more information about ORE, check out its website

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