Madison Heights mayor looking into volunteer time bank

Idea is to create platform where neighbors can help neighbors

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 6, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Since the night he was elected, Mayor Brian Hartwell has spoken of his plans to introduce a volunteer time bank, where residents could list their needs and others could help meet them. Progress is being made on the concept, he says — but it will take time to build.

“The Madison Heights Volunteer Time Bank will be a private charitable organization,” the mayor explained. “It’ll be like an online clearing house for all charitable efforts. The simple beauty of it is to act as an online calendar where organizations can post their events and individuals can post their needs for help. Others can view the calendar and find opportunities to donate their time.

Neighbors helping neighbors, in other words. But there’s more to it than that.

“If you receive the benefit of volunteer time, you’re obligated to return that favor to the community at large,” Hartwell said. “You pay it forward — not to the person who helped you, but to the next project.”

It’s an ambitious idea, already implemented to varying degrees in other communities. But to form one in Madison Heights will take a bit of work.

First, organizers will need to form a charitable business entity to represent the time bank, with its own private board of directors. Then they’ll need to recruit key groups of do-gooders like the Church at Madison Heights, a coalition of local churches focused on community service, and the Community Round Table, a collection of civic groups, schools and other organizations. 

“This would not be a city department, and no public funds will be used,” Hartwell said. “It’s a purely private organization.”

The mayor has been talking to students and recent graduates as well. One college graduate now works for the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

He’ll assist with setting metrics so the time bank can measure where the biggest needs are and whether those needs are being met.

Hartwell said the Madison Heights Intermediate Women’s Club has also been instrumental in planning the time bank. IWC member Diane McGillivray is eager to see the idea realized. She and Hartwell have been meeting once a month with the Michigan Alliance of Time Banks, which is walking them through the steps to get started.

“There’s a macro and a micro goal to this whole idea,” the mayor said. “On a micro level, we’re interested in helping people repair their homes or helping the Girl Scouts with a cookie sale, for example. But on the macro level, the time bank is designed to encourage interactions within our neighborhoods and create a more cohesive bond with our neighbors.”

He noted that the city’s time bank will have a unique advantage compared to time banks in other places like Ann Arbor, southwest Detroit, Ferndale, Royal Oak and Lathrup Village.

“What will be unique about the Madison Heights one is there are so many blue-collar skilled trades workers in our city who will contribute volunteer time,” Hartwell said. “For example, the time bank volunteers in Lathrup Village probably don’t have as many mechanics or sheet metal workers as found in Madison Heights. So Diane and I are inviting the construction skills groups to participate, like the painters’ union and electricians’ union.”

Hartwell hopes the time bank will be especially helpful to homebound seniors. He said the idea for the time bank originally came about because some people were frustrated with the Senior Home Assistance Repair Program (SHARP), which has been hard-pressed to come up with volunteers to address issues.

“An online time bank will gather more volunteers to help thin out the backlog of SHARP projects, with the city uploading those senior requests to the time bank,” Hartwell said.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said he loves the concept of the time bank and fully supports it.

“Anytime you can introduce a good piece of technology like this portal, you have two things: efficiency and awareness,” Bliss said. “Our citizens want to help and have a single place to go to log those volunteer hours and assist others. Now they’ll be able to help more people more efficiently. 

“We have all these phenomenal organizations, which to me is the reason our city has prospered so much over the past 60 years,” he said. “There’s a phenomenal amount of effort from our community groups, and they already do a great job. With this portal, we can help them pool their resources and be even more efficient. Anyone who wants to give help or receive help will know where to go without further questions, and to me that’s a fantastic concept. I hope we can implement this as soon as possible.”