Got your zombie apocalypse survival kit yet? What about that alligator repellant? Better yet, how about some much-coveted, impossible-to-find water from the Fountain of Youth?
Look no further.
Those are the kind of items that will be available when the Urban Legend Institute, at 4011 Hamilton Ave., officially opens its doors Sept. 8. The family-friendly grand opening, from 5 to 10 pm, coincides with Northside’s Second Saturday celebration and will offer treats, music, word games and other surprises, promises Libby Hunter.
But behind the tongue-in-cheek retail storefront is Northside’s newest and very serious nonprofit: WordPlay
, a collaborative literacy group aimed at helping kids learn how to read, write and express themselves. It will offer free tutoring from 3 to 6 pm Mondays through Thursdays and from noon to 4 pm Saturdays.
“It’s not just a store, the Urban Legend Institute will become our street-front personality, our interface with the community,” says Hunter, Wordplay’s executive director. “We want it to be a destination. People will wander in not knowing about WordPlay, they'll enjoy the engaging experience they have at the Urban Legend Institute, learn about WordPlay, spread the word, come back to volunteer, enroll their kids or be inspired to donate.”
WordPlay takes a page from the National 826
program based in San Francisco, with eight chapters across the United States. Each chapter offers free writing and literacy services to underserved children. Each are also fronted by whimsical retail outlets
, including the Bigfoot Research Institute
in Boston, which sells unofficial Yeti Hairballs; The Boring Store
in Chicago, which offers up all types of disguises; and the Museum of Unnatural History
, which may be the only store in the world to sell unicorn tears.
Hunter says she is encouraged about WordPlay after a highly successful pilot this summer, when WordPlay volunteers teamed up with Cincinnati Public School’s Fifth Quarter to work with students from Chase Elementary School.
“The biggest surprise is how well Fifth Quarter went; how quickly the kids become engaged,’’ she says, adding that two retired professionals also become just as committed. “I knew we were onto something.”
One of those volunteers was Tom Callinan, retired editor and vice president of The Enquirer. Callinan, a WordPlay board member, was going to just drop by one or two days to observe. Instead, Hunter says he showed up every day for five weeks to work with the students.
“It was rewarding this summer to watch students transform from reluctant learners to proud ‘authors’ of their work,’’ Callinan says, noting the approach of using fun and creativity to teach certainly enlivens the experience.
The Urban Legend Institute follows the same path: “It’s an excellent example of a nonprofit using social enterprise to support its mission,” he says.
Hunter says the store will also feature locally produced and sourced t-shirts, funky items of lore and crazy bits of Cincinnati history.
And while the Institute began with a wholly quirky theme, Hunter says it has evolved so much that she hopes it will eventually become an archive of local lore.
“We find that legitimate history is becoming a central piece to it,” she says. “We want it to serve as a sort of mini-children's museum, with fun, odd, curious things from the past for kids to explore—objects that might not be for sale but they can work with them, ponder them, use them for writing prompts.”
Imagine a place, she says, where electronics are turned off. Instead, kids are turned on to actual hand writing, the art of letter writing, creating pieces of tactile art that is not crafted from tapping on a screen or moving a mouse.
“Funny enough, as we talk to people and gather information on local legends and history, we find we are becoming something of a repository for local lore and unusual objects,” Hunter says. “How cool to get to share all this with the kids.”
. Share your passion for the written word and creativeness. Teens and adults can both volunteer their time and talents.
. As a 501c(3), donations are tax deductible.
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is the vice president of digital and social media at the Powers Agency.
Editor's Note: Soapbox Managing Editor Elissa Yancey serves as vice chair of the board for WordPlay.