Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op offers a helping hand

Posted on February 6th, 2024 By:

Jill O’Block found it difficult to get the help her family needed when they moved to Gig Harbor from Vashon Island in 2015.

No family or friends lived nearby, and she sometimes needed help with things like picking up her kids after school or occasionally borrowing a pickup truck. They didn’t have anyone to ask. 

She took an idea from a group on Vashon Island and expanded it into something that she believed could work for the area, especially local moms. In August 2023, she started the Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op.

“I had been involved in a time-bank group on Vashon Island, and I thought it would help people without that support system,” O’Block said. “I wasn’t very involved there (Vashon Island) mostly because I felt awkward, and it felt weird to ask if someone could help me.”

Social and helpful

O’Block realized that to help people to feel comfortable asking for help, she needed to incorporate some social opportunities in the co-op. Members needed to get to know one another first.

What began as a way for moms to trade time for watching kids has expanded to much more. It includes such things as yard work, home repair and cleaning.

Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op member Jill O’Block donated time to help Joyce Johnson paint a wall in her home, which earned time for O’Block’s time bank. Photo courtesy of Joyce Johnson

The co-op has three main pillars: A time bank, social events and workshops, and community service.

Under the time bank system, when a member volunteers to help another member, that time goes into their “bank.” Members spend banked time by asking for help from someone else.

Everyone participating in the time bank program must fill out a background check form, since tasks often involve going into a near-stranger’s home.

Women’s Co-op seeks nonprofit status

“I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t have someone in their home because it’s messy,” O’Block said. “That’s the reason I started this, because we all have different strengths, and it’s really a way to share what we are good at doing.”

The co-op is an independent group and not affiliated with any church or other organization. It is in the process of seeking nonprofit status. Another member of the leadership team, Marueen Malaney, is working on obtaining 501(c)3 status.

O’Block said the group isn’t about charity, but strengthening the community.

“We learn so much more when we get together with one another than we do sitting at home and listening to people’s stories on the computer,” she said. “I was asking myself why it’s so hard to make friends as an adult, so this is a way to develop relationships that is much more organic. Every time we’ve done a task we all start talking, and find common interests. I’ve made more friends in these five months than I have in the eight years since I moved here.”

Community service projects

In addition to the time bank, members also have an opportunity to learn from others in workshops and give back to the community through service projects, such as roadside cleanup.

Brianne Walsh helped O’Block begin the co-op. The two met through their daughters, who are also friends.

“One day, out of the blue, she came to me with this awesome idea,” Walsh said. “It’s been awesome building a friendship with her, because that’s so hard to do as an adult.”

Walsh offers her time as a cook and is the co-op’s vetting coordinator.

“The co-op has brought so much positivity to my life, from building friendships to also just knowing that I have support if I need it, and I know I don’t have to do it alone anymore,” Walsh said.

Members of the Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op donate time to community service projects like roadside cleanup. By participating, members earn time for their time banks. Left to right: Jill O’Block, Corinne Thompson, Maureen Faccia and Shianne Faler. Photo courtesy of Kyle O’Block

Accessible and sustainable

Some community service projects incur costs to members at the moment, such as dumping trash that they’ve collected. Malaney said the co-op’s goal is to grow and ensure that the activities remain accessible to all and sustainable.

Malaney has lived in Gig Harbor for 20 years and raised a daughter here. 

“I often felt very much on my own here, as I have no family in the area, and my local friends have their own families which come first,” she said. “The idea that a community of women could offer and receive help from each other became even more appealing to me after divorcing a few years ago.”

In addition to help with chores and childcare, Malaney said the co-op members step up in other situations as well.

“I recently needed to have a medical procedure and another co-op member was able to drive me,” she said. “The co-op community has been so warm and welcoming, and I feel really lucky to have met these women.”

The stigma of seeking help

Getting more members who are fully vetted and willing to ask for help has been a struggle, O’Block said. She said it’s also important for the stigma of asking for help to be stripped away.

“There is no place for anyone to give help if no one is asking,” she said.

Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op is open to all and child-friendly. Frequently those who donate time to help must bring along children, and others are there to help watch the kids, O’Block said. 

“If it’s a child-friendly task, someone will be there for childcare, and it won’t cost anything to the host, but the person doing the childcare will earn hours,” O’Block said.

Recruiting members

O’Block said the co-op limited membership to women partly to empower women. The group also wants to ensure that members feel safe in their homes while someone is there helping them.

“I feel like women are the ones struggling with feeling overwhelmed, and I want women to be able to get together to talk about that, and not feel so alone in that. I also did a poll to see if we want to keep it just women, and the results were a resounding ‘yes.’

“We are accepting of all women, and that includes trans women, and non-binary. The end goal is to develop a healthy community, and be a place for the community to lean on.”

The Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op is recruiting members who are willing to be fully onboarded through a background check as well as women for its leadership team.

To join, visit Gig Harbor Women’s Co-op on Facebook, and reach out to one of the admins, or send a direct message to O’Block.