How The Well’s Community Tool Library powers projects and empowers homeowners

By Zinga Hart for TDS

Photos by Michelle Hill, courtesy of The Well

When you think of The Well Community Development Corporation, you may recall the church on East Market Street. You may have gotten coffee from Compass Coffee or browsed the literature at Elizabeth’s Bookshop & Writing Center or tapped into one of the plethora of services offered. 

The people behind these familiar spaces have helped the Middlebury neighborhood grow. For example, they recently hit their goal, early, of developing 60 homes within 60 months.

But they aren’t done yet.

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Take a right on Adams Street and you will find the Community Tool Library where any Akronite who joins for $50 a year can get tools as easily as one borrows a book from the library.  

The staff first learned about the idea in 2018 during a national community development conference, which promoted tool libraries as a way to help people maintain their homes. To start their own, The Well partnered with AmeriCorps VISTA, a community service program that pays participants a small stipend to captain a project. 

Kelly Ashley, The Well’s business manager, began by organizing and researching the process. Once her VISTA term ended, Ken Evans took over to get it launched, working with The Well’s housing coordinator, Chris Norris, to buy all the tools, get donations and build partnerships. 

“We have everything from nice quality drain snakes to wheelbarrows, chop saws, shop vacs — you can find it all on The Well website,” Ken says.

They also broadened their scope by stocking up on equipment for organizations that don’t have their own stash of shovels and rakes for volunteer community service projects. 

“We wanted the tool library to kind of fill that gap,” Ken says.

Their tool library opened in June 2020, and membership growth has been steady but slow because their initial plans were stifled as community projects were paused while organizations navigated the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Now, a year after opening, their vision is coming to fruition. On May 16, they provided tools for 50 volunteers who planted nearly 100 trees for an effort led by Akron Parks Collaborative, Keep Akron Beautiful and the Davey Tree Expert Company. 

Still, The Well remains committed to empowering homeowners. 

“The vision for the tool library has always had a real emphasis on homeownership and in supporting that pathway supporting people in the home because one of the most intimidating factors of owning a home is maintaining it and knowing what you need to do,” Ken says.

The challenge now is to reach those who need access to these tools but may not know about or be comfortable with specialty equipment like the drywall lift, scaffolding sets and inspection cameras, among the 500 options available at the Community Tool Library.

Chris says they can help nervous do-it-yourselfers learn what they need and how to use it. 

“So they come in, and we can explain how to use them and give them a little rundown of what can help them with their job.”

The Well CDC also offers home maintenance classes that range from $5 to $10. 

“That way when a contractor shows up and tries to sell you something, you can know if it’s genuine or if it’s not something that is necessary if somebody is trying to swindle you,” Chris says. 

They hope now to spread awareness that the CTL is here and open to anyone, whether it’s to build a Little Free Library or snake a tricky drain. To get tools, members must sign a waiver, provide their own transportation and return items within a week or risk a late fee. 

As the program grows, Ken, who also writes for The Devil Strip, will be watching from a distance because his one-year VISTA term ended in July 2021, turning control over to Chris. Although he’s looking for his next challenge, Ken envisions a long-life for the CTL. 

“I’m hoping, in a few years, we’ll have over 2,000 tools in here, we’ll have a paid staff member, and I would love to see 100-plus members by the end of 2021,” Ken says.

Anyone can sign up for membership through The Well’s website or reach out to volunteer their skill sets or donate tools. For more details, visit thewellakron.com/community-tool.

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