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Banking on Michigan's community spirit

Take out your Michigan map. (For you out-of-staters, hold up your right hand with the palm facing you and form a mitten shape.) Point to the spot about an inch below your index finger. That's where you will find Lathrup Village, more or less.

The city's motto sound so idyllic for this small municipality about 20 miles outside of Detroit: Beautiful homes and great neighbors.

Longtime resident Kim Hodge agreed with the first statement. But that second one never felt completely true – until recently.

Thanks to a nifty phenomenon known as time banking, Hodge and her neighbors now know each other better than ever before.

First, a little about time banks. These groups allow people to exchange an hour or two of labor in an organized way. That hour goes into the time bank as a Time Dollar. Then you have a Time dollar to spend on having someone doing something for you.

The movement is so organized that people can track their spending online, making the system so simple to use that even kids get in on the deal.

Hodge co-founded her city's time bank in January 2008. The original 18 members have now blossomed to more than 100 participants.

Time banking makes so much sense for everyone involved, Hodge believes. The hardest part is asking for help.

Hodge understands the challenge that poses. She was recently unemployed after losing her job as a Senior State Coordinator with AARP. Too many Michigan residents who are out of work are struggling with depression, drinking and other issues related to their job losses.

“They need a way to plug in and feel valuable. We can help each other out and that's what we need to do in Michigan,” Hodge said.

In fact, she notes that Lathrup Village's time bank has twice as many people offering their help as are those receiving services. It is so cool it also won the statewide Community Excellence award from the Michigan Municipal League last month.

Hodge recently started the Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks, an organization that works with individuals, organizations and communities hoping to launch their own version. In fact, she is the executive director (how's that for landing on your feet!) While the job doesn't pay (yet), it could be the start of something big.

In fact, the state organization is holding two informational meetings today to help launch a major push toward time banking.

“We've got something cool in Lathrup Village, but we need others to do it,” Hodge said.

Now, Lathrup Village is that closely knit community its motto wants it to be.

“In the economic times we're dealing with now, I think it's a great thing that people can help people,” City Administrator Jeff Mueller said.

Well put.

To read more about time banks and the effort to launch more in Michigan, click right

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