UCA student organizes local currency project

That?s not George Washington staring back at you ? it?s a toad that graces the front of some unusual local currency. The currency is part of the Conway Community Hours project that is designed to bring the community together while boosting the local economy.

UCA Honors College senior Chris Massingill, who is spearheading the project, first learned about local currency in a UCA Honors College class on globalization. Her professor, Dr. Allison Wallace, discussed other local currency projects that she knew about in Unity, Maine., and Ithaca, N.Y. The concept interested Massingill, who decided to start a local currency project right here in Conway.

Massingill said, ?When I first heard about local currencies I loved the idea of how it could extend my ability to barter. As an artist, I barter and trade with people quite often, and a local currency gives me the opportunity to essentially trade with people outside my small circle of friends.?

Local currency is paper money that is traded within a fixed region so that money spent in the community stays in the community. Massingill said, ?Money that is spent at a big box store almost immediately leaves town, however, people who own local businesses generally also shop locally and so money spent at a locally-owned store actually generates more local money.?

The currency is divided up into Hours and half-Hours, with each Hour being worth one hour of work. The money is called Hours as a reminder that the real source of money’s value is created by people ? their time, skills and energy. By encouraging people to think about the value of everyone’s time, Hours help bring equity to work.

The one-Hour currency has a toad design on the front, while the half-Hour has a little pig sitting on a bag of money. Counterfeit Hours are prevented because the currency is embossed in the hands of the clocks in the logo on the front of the money. ?The use of color, a high end paper and the red stamped numbering is also designed to prevent fraud,? Massingill said.

Conway Hours participant Susan Guillory said, ?I?m really excited about the prospects this project holds. I think it will help unite the community by encouraging residents of Conway to shop at local businesses and barter more often.?

A directory of members is located on the Conway hours Web site and lists participants that offer services in exchange for Hours. Many of the services are geared towards academics and the arts, but Massingill is hoping to expand. ?I would like to get more nuts and bolts types of services. I?d like to get cleaning services, office suppliers, carpenters and lawn care help in the future,? she said.

Conway Hours participant Angela Spicer says, ?The possibility for connections with neighbors is great. If there?s something I need, I can contact a person involved in the program to get it. Rather than walk into Wal-Mart and pick up a scarf without having any idea where it came from or knowing what human hands created it, I can meet and have a conversation with the maker. This makes for a much more personal exchange of goods and services.?

This semester Massingill is working on getting the Conway Community HOURS recognized as a non-profit organization, which would allow it to become eligible for grants. She said, ?Non-profit status will require the establishment of a board of directors. This will help the longevity of the project because that means that the whole project won’t be resting on one or two people, but a group of interested individuals who can help decide how Conway Hours is going to grow and progress.? The grants that the program would receive will go towards producing more brochures, magnets and window decals.

?A local currency can be a lot of work, it requires startup time and startup costs and can sometimes seems unwieldy but it is worth the effort and people are surprisingly open to change. I have found that there are lots of people in this community who want to help and want to participate and try in some way to help to make a difference,? Massingill said.

A community meeting is planned to discuss the future of the Conway Hours project at Hendrix College after spring break. For more information about the Conway Community Hours, go to www.conwayhours.org or email Chris Massingill at Chris@conwayhours.org.

-Jessica Saylor