This Recycler-in-Chief Turned Ink Into Impact Thanks to the Library

Written by Joe Armstrong, Content Specialist, Downtown Main Library

We insist on being a library for all. All minds. All modes. All needs. More than 2.4 million visits are made to the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library each year from customers living in and working in our diverse, vibrant, and unique neighborhoods. Our series “Meet a Library Customer” shares the stories that minds of all kinds have each day at CHPL.

All sorts of things wind up in a landfill. But egg cartons, styrofoam, old clothes and so many other items can find new uses or be recycled completely instead of wasting away at the dump. Starting with a personal mission to keep carpet squares and fabric swatches out of the garbage, Colleen McSwiggin has led the charge to keep literal mountains of items from ending up in the garbage at the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub, opens a new window.

Since April 2021, as founder and Recycler-in-Chief, Colleen has led the Hub to reuse or recycle over 200 tons of material—the equivalent of 33 elephants! But it takes specialized equipment, trained staff, protective gear, and lots of space to operate a one-of-a-kind recycling mecca. Colleen turned to the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library's Nonprofit Grants services to seek out and apply for critical funding to jumpstart and expand the Hub into one of the region's largest recycling and reuse centers. 

Turning Ink Into Impact

Running an established recycling and reuse center is no simple feat. But launching an operation - all not knowing in just a few months a pandemic will emerge, throwing any plans you had right out the window? That's what Colleen was facing in February 2020. 

With no funding for rent, equipment, or people Colleen knew grant funding would be a big part of building a sustainable foundation for the Hub. "I thought, ok, I've got to figure out how to get some funding even just to get off the ground," she said. "So I took a grants writing course at the Library."

That grants writing course was just one of the free training classes Tessa Grindle-de Graaf, the Library's Grants Librarian, offers each year on how to find, research, and apply for nonprofit grant funding. "I help people working in nonprofits find funding," Tessa says, "and get as much help as they can in the research phase."

In the training, Colleen learned essential techniques in successful proposal writing for nonprofits, including what goes into a successful proposal, how the material is organized, how proposal budgets are prepared, and how to present proposals to grant makers in ways designed to promote a positive response. 

The training was well worth it, Colleen says, as she was able to obtain what would be the first of many grants for the Hub. But, Colleen says, "If we had not gotten the first grant that we received and obtained that cash flow, we wouldn't have had rent and would not be where we are."

Learn more about the Cincinnati Recycle & Reuse Hub - including what materials you can take (or pick up) to be reused or recycled - on their website, opens a new window

The Library's Nonprofit Grants Services 

The grants writing course Colleen took is one of a three-part series offered virtually at various days and times by the Library:

  • Introduction to Finding Grants is an hour-and-a-half course that provides an overview of the funding research process for those seeking grants for nonprofits from foundations, corporations, and grantmaking public charities.
  • Grants Research Lab is an hour-and-a-half computer lab that offers the opportunity to receive staff help as you search for nonprofit grants using our electronic databases.
  • Introduction to Proposal Writing is an hour-and-a-half course that offers tips and techniques in successful proposal writing for nonprofits, including what goes into a successful proposal, how the material is organized, how proposal budgets are prepared, and how to present proposals to grant makers in ways designed to promote a positive response.

For more details, please Ask a Librarian or call 513-369-6900. To view upcoming CHPL events and programs, visit the Library's online program calendar.

CHPL also offers a specialized tool that organizations can use to find their "just right" match with a funder. Candid's Foundation Directory Online Professional provides access to essential facts on grantmakers and their funding activities worldwide. 

The software helps users pinpoint prospective funders through four comprehensive databases: Grantmakers, Companies, Grants, and 990s. With geographic search tools, you can zoom in on regional and local grantmakers or grants by state, county, city, metro area, congressional district, and ZIP code. Choose from over 1,100 indexed search terms or keyword-search. Interactive maps and charts show a funder’s giving trends, and you can click through to see recipient lists and grant details.

Foundation Directory Online Professional is available for in-person use at the Downtown Main Library, opens a new window during open hours. No appointment is needed.

Want more information about the Library's Nonprofit Grants services? Visit to get in touch with a Grants Librarian.