Volunteers are a credit to their community

Residents in the Gonghexin Road Community use an app called Gonghexin e-home to track credits they earn for volunteer work and peruse the goods and services the credits can buy.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Reviving community spirit and bringing neighborhood residents closer together for the common good are common headaches for grassroots officials. The problem is particular acute among younger people.

The Gonghexin Road Community has found one solution.

It introduced the concept of a “time bank,” where residents can earn credits by doing volunteer work in the community. Earned “time credits” can be redeemed for a variety of goods and services, including annual laundry cards, cinema tickets, restaurant coupons and membership in exercise classes.

Residents can earn and use the credits via a tailor-made app called Gonghexin e-home. It is the first of its kind in Shanghai.

The Luoshan neighborhood in the community was first to try out the new app a year ago. The project will be expanded in 2018 to 25 neighborhoods, said Zhu Youyuan, deputy director of the community’s office.

“Previously, only senior citizens took part in volunteering and other community work,” said Huang Bei, Party chief of Luoshan. “Young people didn’t have much time and weren’t interested in our activities. We used to post community information on neighborhood boards, but now we also use social media after talking with young residents to see what they wanted.”

She added, “We now have 387 registered users, more than half of whom are young people.”

Han Liang and his wife are among the active users.

“From the app, his wife found out that the community was providing free karate classes to children, so she signed up their eight-year-old son,” Huang said. “We didn’t charge a penny, and we let the parents decide on a class time that suited their schedule.”

As a result, Han Liang’s wife befriended community social workers and told them of her husband’s skill at pen writing. She recommended him as a volunteer teacher.

“My son didn’t want to learn pen writing from me because he thought it was boring,” Han said. “But now, he is enthusiastic about it because he can learn in classes with other children from the community.”

After holding more than 10 classes, Han noted, “We love doing things for the community and can earn credits for things we want.”

Ti Gong
Ti Gong

Children enroll for karate and calligraphy lessons.

Another popular function on the app is “sharing parking spaces,” which helps ease the community’s chronic parking shortage.

“Residents with their own parking spaces can open access to others when they are gone from home,” Huang said. “Neighbors can use credits to obtain short-time parking.”

Wan Jie, 30, has benefited from it.

After his wife got pregnant, he paid many visits to property management officials, seeking a parking space near his unit. No luck.

“My parking space was about eight minutes’ walk from my unit,” Wan said. “I wanted a closer one. So, I posted my plea on the app, asking for exchange of parking spaces. Unexpectedly, a neighbor contacted me and agreed for an exchange.”

Zhu said “time credits” not only recognize the contributions of residents but also help bring residents closer together.

“Previously, neighbors were ‘familiar strangers,” but now they can be real friends,” he said.

Residents can also redeem credits for services provided by the property management company.

“This is very popular with residents,” Huang said. “They can make an appointments with repairmen, under the supervision of property managers.”

Companies in or near the community can also participate in the app functions.

“They can donate resources, like entertainment tickets, to support our activities and also promote their brands,” Huang said. “Many companies sponsor activities but don’t have enough participants. We can ask our residents to take part. Both sides are winners.”

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