WordPlay launches collaborative literacy effort in Northside

There is something special about those moments in time where a chance encounter presents the perfect opportunity to transform an idea to action – at just the right time, and for all the right reasons.

That is exactly what happened one evening about a year ago when Libby Hunter, who was working on a condo development project in Northside, noticed a group of kids shouting and throwing rocks at the window of a disabled resident. Infuriated, she confronted them.

“A tense, heated argument turned into a conversation with them about what they do in their free time, how they feel about their neighborhood, crime, safety... when I showed an interest in them, they became engaged and enlivened,” says Hunter, who is known for her efforts to create new housing opportunities in the neighborhood where she lives.

Turns out, a chance encounter with some misbehaving children quickly evolved into the impetus for WordPlay, an exciting new regional effort based on the collective impact model.

WordPlay is a non-profit organization that will support students from K-12 with programs targeting early literacy. Hunter seeks to improve creative and expository writing skills while inspiring children to develop a passion for the literary arts. WordPlay is modeled after the 826 National program based in San Francisco. Co-founded by best-selling author Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari, an award-winning educator, 826 National has eight chapters across the United States. Each provide free writing and literacy services to underserved children.

WordPlay is set to open in August 2012, with pilot programming targeted for Cincinnati Public Schools' Fifth Quarter program this summer. Services are free of charge to students and include after-school tutoring, field trips and in-school programs. Volunteers will staff the center, providing instruction and assistance on everything from homework to class projects and providing specialized workshops for student publications and those learning English as a second language. In addition, WordPlay will provide evening and weekend workshops with professionals ranging from poets to songwriters, to authors, journalists and screenwriters.

The WordPlay tutoring center will be located in a prominent storefront in Northside, and will include retail space for the Urban Legend Institute – a shop featuring locally sourced products designed around Cincinnati history and lore. "Think abandoned subways, gangsters, folklore – and other fun unusual items," Hunter says. All proceeds from the store will help fund and support WordPlay.

A connection to the local community is a big part of WordPlay’s strategy to become a model for cultivating literacy and the creative arts in youth. The organization has already established strategic partnerships with the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, Xavier University's Writing Program and Learning Through Art, and is in talks with members of the local business and education community including Cincinnati Public Schools and UGive, a program that mobilizes high school students to become volunteers.

“We are in talks with other arts and literary organizations to come together in the space as a community collaborative, bringing even more energy to our efforts,” says Hunter, who will serve as the organization’s executive director.

Do Good:

Volunteer. Help a child discover a passion for writing, and teach them the skills to succeed.

Donate. As a 501c(3), donations are tax deductible.

Become a community partner.

By Deidra Wiley Necco

Editor's Note: Soapbox Managing Editor Elissa Yancey serves as vice chair of the board for WordPlay.
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