SELF helps put Cincinnati ToolBank to the test

The year was 2012. In Hamilton, a city just north of Cincinnati, an organization known as Supports to Encourage Low-income Families or SELF, had a problem that Housing Coordinator John Post described as “a logistical nightmare.” Two years prior, SELF piloted a “Blitz Week” where 100 volunteers would paint and repair 20 homes over the course of a week. The effort was so successful that SELF made it a permanent program and the number volunteers doubled to 200 in 2011. “We only had 10 ladders,” John confessed.

The effort would require another 75 more and numerous other tools. Since buying them was too costly of an option, they borrowed them from all over the community–friends, homeowners, other organizations, and even rented a few from local hardware stores. This also meant John had to come up with a system to keep track of every borrowed ladder, schedule pick ups and returns, and guaranteed that any broken or lost ladder would be replaced with a brand new one. The good news is they were able to pull it off and news spread about the great work that SELF was doing in Bulter County. Cue 2012: 300+ volunteers will be showing up this summer for Blitz week with a goal of serving 50 homes. What is John going to do now?

Meanwhile in the West End of Cincinnati, Kat Pepmeyer and her small but mighty squad of AmeriCorps volunteers were working hard in preparation of the impending August 8th, 2012 grand opening of the nation’s newest ToolBank affiliate. She was excited about the transformation of warehouse space, which a few short months ago had plants growing inside the building. By June, the space is shimmering thanks to the help of volunteers, The Home Depot and a huge donation of tools from Crossroads church. To Kat, the only thing better than having all the tools at the ToolBank is putting this stockpile to good use in the Greater Cincinnati area.

As John is working on rounding up tools for the next Blitz, he hears from a friend about this new organization that loans tools to non-profits. John contacts the ToolBank and puts in his order for some ladders (and a few other items) and the rest is history. When I met John, he was returning their latest tool order for this summer’s round of Blitz weeks–of which there are now three total camps. He agreed to meet with me and tell me more about how being a member of the ToolBank has been benefited their work. The first thing I noticed was how proud John is that SELF is the first client of the ToolBank. As he showed me around and introduced me to other members of the SELF staff he made sure to mention that “We are the first and oldest client of the ToolBank!”

In 2016, SELF had 1400 volunteers (22,500 volunteer hours) serve 140 homes while building 20 wheelchair ramps–the most ever. This year they are anticipating over 25,000 volunteer hours and closer to 150 homes served. Since being a client of The ToolBank, SELF has also launched a new property renovation program to buy and fix foreclosed homes. “To be honest with you, having resources like the ToolBank has helped our growth. We’d still be wallowing in the mire and doing one camp…trying to figure out how we are going to do that. This has enabled us to do more.” He said at one point during the interview.

One of the events even paid dividends for the Cincinnati ToolBank when an AmeriCorps volunteer took a photo that won a contest resulting in a $1000 prize for both organizations. It’s clear that SELF and ToolBank are natural allies and an impactful partnership. John has the last word on that sentiment.”The ToolBank has been a blessing. It can’t be overstated…For a small organization getting quality tools in a timely manner to do the jobs that we need to do is daunting. It has enabled us to triple our capacity…We have to do everything we can to keep things simple if we are going to be able to continue to grow…The ToolBank has been one of the primary groups that has helped us do that.”