At this time of year, we are often reminded that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. But there are a group of local businesspeople who are living that mantra year-round by taking part in what’s being pegged as a “gift economy.”
Simply put, a gift economy is a type of economic system in which goods and services are given without any expectation of reward or payment. According to the New World Encyclopedia, “A gift economy emphasizes social or intangible rewards, such as karma, honor, or loyalty, for giving.”
April Lewis, owner of The Art of Yoga on Hilton Head Island, is an adherent of the practice. Her studio doesn’t charge fees for its services, which include yoga classes, herbal consultation, holistic healing and massage.
“It really is a simple idea about getting what you give,” she said. “People think that way during the holidays, but we hope people will think about that concept year-round.
“It’s all about the honor system. When we tell people the fee is whatever they want to pay, some of them say, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’ and some people want a ballpark figure of what to pay. But that’s the fun of it – seeing people’s faces when we explain that we’re a donation-only business.”
So how well does it work? Marty Crocker, a massage therapist at The Art of Yoga, says it is simply amazing.
For Crocker, however, it’s about much more than money.
A massage therapist for the last seven years, he took on the gift economy philosophy about two years ago. He said the whole idea for him is to “eliminate barriers to entry. I don’t believe massage should be a luxury. So many people need it for health care. I can help them with aches and pains in a noninvasive way. I wanted to eliminate the excuse that they don’t have the money for it. I do it for whatever they want to give.
“I’m also wide open to bartering,” he said. “If your gift is money, or your gift is a goat, let’s find a solution together.”
Overall, Crocker said, the gift economy fits in with his moral code.
“I’m trying to become an example for others to follow,” he said. “It’s the basic philosophy of yoga and non-attachment. If we treat each other better, we’re happier, and it makes life a heck of a lot easier. I really try to practice what I preach.”
For volleyball enthusiast and coach Genia Edelman, the gift economy changed her life.
Edelman was a high-powered executive in Atlanta when she came to the realization that she wanted to find her passion in life.
She left her job and moved to Hilton Head a little over three years ago and examined where she wanted to go in life. She’s always been very passionate about volleyball, which she coached in Atlanta. She’s also very passionate about helping young women become strong and confident, about teaching them how to be team players.
So, she started coaching in the volleyball area near the Tiki Hut on the island and players paid what they could afford. “It’s funny, but when I first told (the players) this was a donation-only business, some would ask me what’s fair to pay me. I said whatever is fair is fair. People said I’d get taken advantage of, that my time is valuable. But the reality is that if you have no expectation of payment, you can’t be taken advantage of. My goal isn’t to make money. My goal was to develop self-confident individuals.”
And her business took off.
“When it started on the beach it started with just a few girls. Then 20 to 30 girls would show up and then I started coaching boys, too. It branched out to be much bigger than I envisioned.
“I’ve now been asked to coordinate volleyball for the entire region by USA Volleyball, the governing body for the Olympics. It’s really been cool.”
Her generosity has gone viral. “The coolest thing is that my son (Logan Edelman of Logan Leggs Entertainment) is a musician and he’s started a donation-only studio in Bluffton. He’s trying to help young artists, who donate equipment, time, money or whatever.”
Tony Rocha, a personal trainer on Hilton Head Island, has also found success in the gift economy.
Rocha, who is going to school for massage therapy, said his part in the gift economy started with doing charity work. Additionally, he lost a lot of weight, and as a personal trainer those two things inspired him to want to help others.
“I’m not out to make a quick buck,” he said. “I just want to give people what I’ve been given.”
Overall, all of these folks taking part in the gift economy say they are given so much more in so many ways, that people don’t take advantage of their kindness.
As Lewis said, “People really do want to be good.”
Photography by Chloe Pinnock