Amber Ortiz: Then I Got Hooked

by Sharon Wachsler

Amber Ortiz is the Timebank's outreach and events coordinator, and has been involved with NQTB for three years. I recently had a chance to discuss her involvement in the Timebank, including some pretty frank admissions about her initial impressions of the Timebank – plus some juicy gossip about a big impact the Timebank's had on her life!

Sharon: How'd you get involved in the Timebank?
Amber: I got got convinced to be a member, I don't remember [being told] why [it was important], just that I had no choice! And then I got hooked. I got really into selling it.

Sharon: What hooked you?
Amber: I had made a beautiful ball gown for a wedding I went to. A member who was a summer intern from a local college wanted to learn to read a sewing pattern. She wanted to learn how to follow a pattern and then how to change one to your tastes.

The next exchange was a guy who needed a drive to Worcester for the Immigration Office. It was just a ride, so I could do that. And then we had a very very mutual exchange. I had never had the time to take the info off my old computer and put it on my new computer. He did that. He also earned hours to get rides from me by painting at YES [the Young Entrepreneur Society, where I work].

Sharon: When did you become a coordinator?
Amber: Last year. I was already working at YES; I've been working there eight years. I was at the Learn to Earn program. It teaches teens in Orange to get savvy in the work arena - making resumes, job searching, and learning the skills it takes to become successful in a work environment.

When we looked into alternative employment, the Timebank was part of the alternative employment: how to invest time to get a job, using the Timebank as a way to network, etc. And then it did actually lead to paying jobs for some! One kid who started out doing trades for someone ended up with a long-term job because they'd gotten to know him through the Timebank.

You told me once, “It's so important for teens to get involved in the Timebank.” Why?
Amber: So that people don't judge them; so they're able to test the waters. In regular employment, people go to interviews. But teens can get nervous about interviews. But if they've already demonstrated their ability to do good work in a time trade, they've built a reputation around good work. [It creates an opportunity for them to] find paid employment, or meaningful employment. There's creative room within the Timebank that teenagers have taken advantage of, not as much as I'd hope, but I see the potential increasing over time. They can build a repertoire that can lead to jobs – or relationships, mentorships, friendships.

Sharon: You sound passionate about the Timebank.
Amber: At first I didn't understand the whole concept. I thought it was kind of stupid and annoying and repetitive to have to log in and keep track of all your hours. But after a while, I did get it and enjoy it.

Now I can tell people about it as part of an alternative community, and think it's very important – that I'm part of a movement that's worldwide – that I'm a member. [Before the Timebank,] I'd been a trader or a barterer and an entrepreneur because I had to be creative, because I was forced to, to get along. Being part of the Timebank is like being part of a family because we all have signed off on the core values and core beliefs. We're all on the same page. We're all understanding what it means to be part of the same unit. In a family or with friends or another job, you don't have that. With the Timebank, we all share that in some way.

So, someone who teaches me to knit might have a different background from me or think differently from me, but this is a way that we share something that makes us friends, that makes us passionate about the movement.

Sharon: I heard you had a time trade that has led to a big change in your life!...
Amber: I met this guy on the computer, on a dating website, and found out he lived in Orange, so I asked him to join the Timebank. I oriented him to the Timebank, and at the time I was looking for a walking partner – it was nice out, but I was living in Greenfield and didn't want to walk alone. So, we started taking walks, and we started to talk about, “If it's a trade, who's benefiting here?” And he said, “It's me, because I get to spend time with you.”

We've just moved in together. He blames it on the dating site, but I think what nailed it down was that we were on the same plane, we had that point of view in common of the Timebank. He has a [dog] kennel and offers kenneling for time dollars, and he's looking for landscaping assistance.

Sharon: This year you're focusing specifically on outreach and events coordinating for the Timebank. You mentioned that when you first found out about NQTB, you found the software stupid and irritating to use! Now that you have such a central role in using and teaching the software, how do you make the experience different for new members?
Amber: I was never oriented to the software, just to the Timebank concept, not into the system. It's a lot easier when you get oriented into the database concept. People sign up because they agree with the concept – but learning the system and how it works – well, if I wasn't computer savvy I'd have had a hard time.

Sharon: Yes, when you oriented me you made me very comfortable and showed me a lot of things about the software I would have had to stumble across on my own!
Amber: I also think it is important to log people's hours for them and to offer different ways and means for people to be involved in the system, and not just in the standard online manner.

Sharon: Is there anything you're looking forward to in upcoming Timebank events?
Amber: I've been doing a scrapbook class once a month in New Salem, and I love it. Lynn Layton offers the space as a Timebank project. It's a cool space dedicated to art and crafts. So I'm really able to hone in and hook into craftbooking instead of just doing it here and there in my spare time. That space is great! And she's helped me, given me tips to make my pages better. Most important she's given me a time to do it. See Scrapbooking Class Announcement for more details!

Sharon: When can people meet with you in person for member orientation or to ask questions and such?
Amber: I'm in the Timebank office, which is housed at YES (26 South Main St.
Orange) on Thursdays from 9 AM to noon and on Saturday mornings from 9 to 11 by appointment. I'll be at at Athol library from 1 PM to 3 PM every Thursday. I'm working on setting up hours at other libraries, too. Interested North Quabbin libraries should definitely get in touch with me at YES at 978-544-1869 or