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Services for Swap

Services for SwapWhat happens when people stop buying with money? A Tufts economics expert says “skill swapping” programs are making a comeback, helping local communities along the way. Boston.

Boston [03.15.04] Once a fixture in American society, community exchanges have all but disappeared from the modern landscape. But a Tufts economics expert says a series of new programs may be reviving the concept and the communities that support it.

"It turns out that people have something to offer that is really valued by other human beings even if it doesn't have a market value," Neva Goodwin - co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts - told Better Homes and Gardens.

Community exchanges, says Goodwin, were much more common when the country was forming. Essential to each other's basic survival, neighbors and local community members typically pitched in to help each other do everything from raise a barn to bring in the harvest.

"Neighborhood or community exchange has gone out of our society," Goodwin told Better Homes and Gardens. "People now count on getting their needs met through the formal market. If you have money, you buy it, and if you don't, you can't."

But organizations such as the Time Dollar Institute in Washington, D.C. have sprouted up to help local communities create "skill swapping" programs to meet their growing needs.

In such programs, value is placed not on money, but the time people spend doing deeds for others -- whether it's teaching a child to tie his shoes or visiting someone who is ill. Computerized systems keep track of credit earned from each service provided.

"It might be a teenager who has a hard time finding work," Goodwin told Better Homes and Gardens, describing some of the people who benefit from the programs. "Or it might be a retired person or someone who is bedridden and normally wouldn't be able to afford help for certain services."

These programs are sprinkled across the United States, from Boston to Minnesota -- many of which are coordinated and supported by hospitals, houses of worship, and nonprofit community organizations.

"It's not just a matter of tapping skills for personal use," reported Better Homes and Gardens, "It's also a way for communities to build stronger bonds."

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