Allentown residents trade services through Community Exchange

September 1, 2010 6:03:10 AM PDT
Lisa Salomon lies on a table in a dimly lit room, with candles burning and soft music playing. She's getting an hour-long massage from trained masseur Bill Hightower.

Salomon is enjoying this massage even more than you might think -- because it's not costing her any money. Both she and Hightower are members of the Allentown Community Exchange.

It's a Time Bank run by the Lehigh Valley Health Network, in which people volunteer hours of services they can provide and trade them for services they need.

"It's really anything," explains Program Manager Laura Gutierrez. "If we have a community member who's willing to provide that, it's in our bank of services. Anything from massage therapy to pet walking to baking and sewing and cooking. "

Hightower trained as a massage therapist, but found in this economy, not enough clients were willing to pay $50 or more for a massage. So, as he works another job, he keeps his skills up by giving massages for free.

"I recently moved and I want to get some painting done in my house, and I have time hours now that I can use to exchange to get other members to come in and do painting," he explains.

Salomon volunteers as a yoga instructor. Triana Vicente has taken Lisa's class, and volunteers her time as a medical interpreter.

"I am the medical interpreter," says Vicente, who's a Vista Volunteer from the Dominican Republic, spending two years with the Lehigh Valley Health Network.

"I do dog-grooming, pet-sitting, housecleaning, whatever. When they need me, companionship."

In return, she's received rides, meals, and help finding a place to live.

Providing companionship to Allentown's elderly was a primary goal of the Community Exchange when it started ten years ago with 30 members. Now it has more than 500.

And it's gone high-tech, with a website where hours are tracked and services listed.

All members go through a screening process and orientation before they can join.

Gutierrez explains, "We do have a screening process. There's some enrollment paperwork. There's background checking. There's reference checking and there's a little bit of orientation and training on how time-banking works and how to get engaged with the project within the community."

For more information about Time Banks and to see if there's one you can join in your area, click here.

And for information about the Allentown Community Exchange, click here.


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