Classic Reston is a biweekly feature sponsored by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce that highlights businesses, places and people with deep roots in Reston.
Back when Reston was a new place to live, there was the spirit of “if you want something here, start it yourself.” So nearly 40 years ago, economist Henry Ware founded the Reston Useful Services Exchange (USE).
Long before there was Craigslist, Lyft and other high-tech people-and-service connectors, USE was formed to bring “back the neighbor-to-neighbor relationship that modern technology and city living have all but finished off,” Ware said in a 1977 article.
Decades — and countless technological innovations later — USE is still organizing help. Though it was dormant for a few years, USE now has 135 members who trade babysitting, lawn care, tutoring, tax prep, rides, household chores and any number of talents. Dues are $10 a year ($20 for a household).
Reston resident Joanne Norton has been a member for about three years and serves as the groups treasurer. She said she has used and given her time to USE for a variety of things, including babysitting.
“We offer rides, and they are great,” she said. “These are to the airports, and to doctors, physical therapy. [Reston founder] Bob Simon has been known to call us at the spur of the moment and ask for a ride. We also hem pants, do alterations, sew buttons. We have been known to bake cakes, help organize parties, files. Mike Hedrick is our handyman who goes out and does fantastic things, like help build little buildings.”
Norton, a senior citizen, says she has seen a recent influx of younger members, which has added some new enthusiasm and intergenerational spirit to the group. The younger members have introduced the older ones to Facebook, Google Docs and other technology to make life — as well as connecting with the USE members — easier. One younger member recently went to teach an older one how to use Facebook — and the younger discovered the elder used to be her teacher.
Other members post on the group’s message boards of appreciating the help they received and also making a new friend in the process.
Norton says she wonders what the future holds for USE. As the baby boomers get older and need more help, there may be a wave of wider networks and expensive service providers. However, many members would like to keep USE as it is — inexpensive and local.
“A time bank will be our salvation as we enter our aging years,” says Norton. “Reston is a perfect place for it to grow. With people being so transient, it affords more interactions and goodwill toward people.”
Learn more about USE by visiting www.Restonuse.org.