The Tool Library: How to Build and Maintain a Social and Environmental Justice Not-for-Profit Organization

Inside The Tool Library in University Heights.

Learn about and volunteer at The Tool Library, an environmental and social justice not-for-profit in the University Heights neighborhood. 

Project description

Are you self-motivated, skilled, and resilient, but also other-directed and eager to learn? Are you independent-minded and yet concerned about social and environmental justice? Do you see yourself working or volunteering for worthy not-for-profit organizations in the future? Motivated students from a wide array of disciplines can join the members and Board of the Tool Library in the University Heights neighborhood, just a little below the UB South Campus at 2626 Main Street across from the Amherst Street metro station, in their efforts to build a sharing economy which will benefit the entire region.

The Tool Library—which celebrated its twelfth anniversary this summer—lends over 4,000 tools, large and small, to over 1,000 individual and group members for both personal and collective projects. In addition to aiding personal do-it-yourself efforts, it organizes extensive community work: planting and maintaining trees, flowers, and neighborhood gardens; spearheading organized cleanups and streetscape and store-front maintenance; staging do-it-yourself and repair clinics; equipping and training in safety and lead abatement efforts.

Its largely young leadership includes recent UB graduates from Architecture, Urban Planning, Environmental Studies, English, Social Sciences, Law, Media Studies, Management, and Engineering, many of whom already have careers in other major local not-for-profits such as the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the Buffalo History Museum, People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH), and the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

This opportunity will enable you, as is appropriate to your interests, goals and abilities, to learn this organization from the ground-up: staffing a shift or two weekly at the shop; learning its inventory, technology, budget and business model; participating in its various committees; helping with its website, social media, and design of communication materials; grant-writing efforts; working in the neighborhood “field”.
Your academic supervisor in these efforts will be long-time Tool Library Board Member Dr. Barbara Bono, UB Associate Professor Emerita of English and Global Gender and Sexuality Studies and former Academic Director of the UB Undergraduate Civic Engagement Academy. She will be assisted by former Board Member Hadar Borden, Program Director of UB’s Blackstone Launchpad, and member Caitlin Hoekstra, Assistant Director of Experiential Learning, College of Arts and Sciences.

Project outcome

Students will pursue a variety of outcomes, as is appropriate to individual interests and abilities:

  • An improved shop inventory and procedures
  • Website improvements and maintenance
  • Improved and maintained social media communications
  • Credited assistance with grant-writing and financial and budget maintenance
  • Help with development of lead-abatement program
  • Continued planning toward—including design of—new Tool Library spaces and building

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment About a semester (3-5 months)
Start time Seeking students for academic fall 2023 and/or spring 2024.  Opportunities to continue beyond that time
In-person, remote, or hybrid?
Level of collaboration Individually tailored but potentially executed in groups
Benefits Community-based volunteer experience with a well-established not-for-profit organization
Who is eligible All undergraduate students 

Core partners

Project mentor

Barbara Bono

Associate Professor Emerita


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

  • Meet, remotely or in person, with Project Supervisor and Professor Barbara Bono
  • Fill out personal Information form to determine interest level, skill, and preparation for the project
  • Read and review the Tool Library website for basic orientation
  • Visit at 2626 Main Street