WordPlay is an eclectically decorated storefront in the Northside neighborhood near Cincinnati State on Hamilton Avenue. Its large windows are filled with sunshine that throws shadows over the typewriters that are also for sale. Claw-foot bathtubs filled with pillows invite one to walk through their doors, sit and slow down with a book, or maybe craft some of your own words through creative writing.
This sublime space was opened in 2012 by Libby Hunter who has been a long-time Northside resident, most recently returning in 2005. She states in her TedTalk about WordPlay’s founding, “I knew these kids, I knew this corner.” Libby decided after seeing her neighborhood in turmoil and children who needed advocacy, to launch a literacy outreach program from that very same corner.
Her original vision was to create a safe intellectual, emotional, and physical space for young people where learning and communication could happen. The inequities of the societal burden of illiteracy ignited the fire that led to the reading and writing after school and Saturday programs at WordPlay. WordPlay places meaningful opportunities at any children’s fingertips, within their reach and grasp. Any person that passes through its doors is embraced as they are, as well as where they are in life.Fast forward to 2014. My middle son begins fourth grade and really is not reading, it’s just not clicking for him for some reason. School starts and his initial assessment at school sends us into a panic. This is the year that kids are no longer learning to read but are READING TO LEARN. And we now finally face that he is behind. We quickly find him a personal tutor and I surf the web looking for literacy programs. WordPlay pops up on my search. I notice that it is right down the street from our Clifton home. They offer free evening and Saturday workshops at ages K through teen and beyond. Sign us up!
The following Saturday, we are there. My son still attends most Saturdays and has joined in quite a few of their other opportunities over the years as WordPlay has grown exponentially. Word Play has played an enormous role in his development as a reader and now, as a creative writer. And that’s why it is is an integral part of my mother’s heart as I have watched him soar and succeed. He continues to explore new and creative horizons. WordPlay has remained a true anchor in our lives as the gifts they invoke to both my son and so many more reach farther and farther in their efforts. Of course, it would be my go-to non-profit that I would choose for the heart of CMB.
I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the integral WordPlay staff one recent fall day. I met with Reba Hennessey, who is WordPlay’s Development and Communications Director. She is also a musician. Alongside her, I also met with Desirae Hosley who is WordPlay’s Program Coordinator. She is also a spoken word artist. They are both welcoming and provide me with so much more information about WordPlay than I ever imagined. WordPlay has expanded into many, many realms, to say the least.
WordPlay is in its seventh year of operating programs that continue to grow based on best practices and research. First and foremost it is a nonprofit outreach literacy initiative and it is the REAL DEAL. WordPlay seeks to create a space to allow imaginations to expand, to allow learning and literacy to climb like vines into this place where children come into a trust of safety and acceptance. All are welcome, all are helped to succeed, whatever that looks like on a given day. One walks into this hallowed space where one is seen, one’s voice is heard.
WordPlay has created many platforms so that no single voice falls through the cracks of society or to self-doubt. The incredible idea is this, set these children free with their own words. Children can find this opportunity in so many ways these days thanks to enormous and varied outreach efforts. Their weekday evening and Saturday original programming at their Northside writing center are still running strong. They also have a new “embedded” or onsight classroom at Aiken high school for those who can’t find their way to the Northside location. They are literally taking the literacy out to the kids now.
WordPlay is also the primary organizer (along with SPUN Bicycles) of Cincinnati’s annual “Ride for Reading” program which collects and then delivers books via bicycle in Title 1 schools and low-income communities. WordPlay hosts open microphone nights for teens to share poetry, stories, or songs in a safe place. During my interview, I also learned about their mobile partnership programs with organizations such as Santa Maria, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, Washington Park, Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Public Library of Cincinnati and many others. It is quite an impressive list to date.
WordPlay’s public programs are free and open to all children and teens across the Greater Cincinnati area. Students can and will build reading and writing skills at any age. They can acquire speaking skills during an open mic session or learn slam poetry from a special guest or local writer. Art and movement are regularly incorporated and they are constantly offering new and inventive programs.
WordPlay doesn’t just show up for the occasional march when society shows a need. WordPlay truly stands on the front lines of literacy. Their true passion is aptly described as “human writes.” They stand committed to ensuring the ongoing success of the future of the Greater Cincinnati youth.
WordPlay is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and is located at 4041 Hamilton Avenue. Cincinnati, Ohio, 45223.
For more information, please visit www.wordplaycincy.org, email [email protected], or call 513-541-0930.
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