What is a Help Bank? (And Why You Might Want One)

In our new column for working moms, Mompreneur, we check out the benefits of a help bank– and why all parents might want one.

what is a help bank?

It takes a village to raise a child—everyone knows this. But to raise children, run a business and meet all the other demands of modern life? Well, that’s a feat that takes a trusted network of capable, connected and committed people willing to pool time, talent and resources to help each other in a pinch. This week, Mompreneur looks at the value of creating a Help Bank, a group of people who agree to swap services on a regular basis.

Sick kids, car troubles, pet problems. Life’s minor emergencies are inevitable—and usually occur at the most inconvenient times, leaving you scrambling to find back-up so you can deal with the issue and still make it to your meeting on time. Unfortunately, not everyone has an army of grandparents waiting in the wings and asking friends for help can feel awkward, especially when you know they’re trying to keep their own balls in the air.

“With two young boys, two dogs, an elderly widowed mother, and a growing business, I figured out really early on that I needed to identify people who I could call for help when things started to go off the rails,” says Liz, who runs a contracting business with her husband in Maryland. “But I didn’t want to be that person who always asks for help without offering anything in return.” So, Liz took a look around her neighborhood and social circle, identified people who might be in the same boat and brought them all together with the express purpose of creating a network of practical support.

The result?  A Help Bank, a google document containing the contact information, availability, and resources on offer of over twenty-five people in her local community. And new people join all the time.

Liz quickly realized that other moms in her circle were also trying to figure things out on the fly and that a little bit of proactive planning and networking would save them all a lot of stress.

Inspired by the listserv emails she received every day, Liz says she quickly realized that so many other moms in her circle were also trying to figure things out on the fly and that a little bit of proactive planning and networking would save them all a lot of stress. “I was getting so many emails every day from my son’s school, my church, my neighborhood mom’s group. People looking for recommendations and access to services and help. So, I decided to invite people over to brainstorm and our Help Bank was born.”

Liz’s biggest need revolved around finding someone who could pick up her kids from daycare when she and her husband couldn’t get out of late client meetings. “I don’t have a lot of flexibility in my daily schedule, but our neighbor two doors down works from home. When we realized that she would love to pick up my boys a couple times per month in exchange for me feeding her cats on the weekends when she’s traveling, we both felt like we’d hit the jackpot.”

Initially, Liz envisioned the Help Bank being a resource for working moms, but soon found the value of including people from many different stages in life.

Initially, Liz envisioned the Help Bank being a resource for working moms, but soon found the value of including people from many different stages in life. She also realized that she could get creative in the resources she and others could offer. She explains, “We have a pickup truck which is a hot commodity in our neighborhood. Our willingness to spend an hour on a weeknight or Saturday morning to help someone move a piece of furniture or pick up a load of mulch is really valuable to some people in our group and something I completely take for granted.” In addition to child and pet care, last-minute rides, extra vehicles and house sitting, members of Liz’s Help Bank also offer services like tutoring, help with science fair projects, professional expertise and interpretation services.

When asked if people take advantage of the resource, Liz noted that there have been a few instances of people not respecting the good-faith nature of the group, but that most people are more than happy to help each other however they can, whenever they can. She also explained that their spreadsheet has a column in which people note any extenuating circumstances or time periods when they’re not available.

“I think in general, people really do enjoy knowing that we’re genuinely helping each other out and that there are predetermined people who we can ask for help when we need it without the guilt of always leaning on friends or family.”

“At the end of the day,” says Liz, “It’s all about reciprocity.”

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