An hour of legal services may cost exponentially more than an hour of cat-sitting, but to retired writer Marie Nelson they're worth the same amount.
Nelson is the founder of Tampa Bay Time, a local nonprofit that allows participants to exchange services based on the time spent rendering them, rather than their market value. People have signed up from Lakeland to New Port Richey to Gulfport.
"In time-banking, it's based on reciprocity," Nelson said.
For a fee ranging from $20-50, participants can join a growing regional network of massage therapists, housekeepers, accountants and others offering hours - not dollars - in exchange for another member's time.
The concept gained steam nationwide as the recession left millions of people with less money and, often, more time on their hands. Locally, despite an economy that was far worse off during the nonprofit's 2010 inception, Tampa Bay Time is seeing a surge in popularity so big that organizers are having trouble keeping up.
"We've been having growing pains," Nelson said.
The membership count is nearly at 300, and about 30 more potential members are on a waiting list that's likely several months long.
What appeals to many members is the simple level of exchange.
"An hour is an hour," said massage therapist and former member Anne Wister, who now lives in Gainesville. "Whether somebody is cat-sitting or lawyering, it's an hour."
There are limits, though, organizers say. Someone who's expecting legal help should informal advice, but probably not full representation in court.
On the other hand, though, things that are not traditionally assigned monetary value but still take time and resources, such as keeping an elderly person company or giving someone a lift to the airport, have the same value as any other service, as long as it's the same amount of time.
"People's hearts are involved," Nelson said. "And their passions."
The system also doesn't require a direct exchange between two people - all someone has to do is perform or receive one kind of service and log the time given or taken in the system.
Anyone can become a member. Organizers say the lack of a vetting process for new members has been a concern for some participants, but they see nothing wrong with leaving exchanges up to the discretion of individuals.
"It's the same issue we have with the outside world," Nelson said "We have to do our own due diligence."
If there have been any issues, they've been extremely rare.
"My own experience is you're probably going to get somebody that's somewhat in your neighborhood," said Sharon Joy Kleitsch, of St. Petersburg.
Kleitsch, who travels extensively through her work as a consultant to nonprofits and local governments on sustainability issues, said she banks many of her hours by conducting outreach for the time bank.
"These people I've had drive me to the airport are people I already know," she said.
Belonging to Tampa Bay Time cultivates a strong sense of community among participants, especially those that are geographically proximal to one another, Kleitsch said. Others agree that the networking component is a large draw.
"It really brings things back to basics, of neighbors helping neighbors, and I love that," said Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1.
LocalShops1, which markets small businesses, offers writing, social media, editing, design and printing services to time bank members in need. In exchange, Venouziou hopes members will volunteer their time staffing one of her events.
"It's all about collaborations, and I'm a huge proponent of working together," she said. "It really is a win-win."
For information, go to www.tampabaytime.org.