Local Spotlight: WordPlay Cincy

Founded in 2012, WordPlay Cincy provides free programs to young people that blend the literary, visual and performing arts with personal discovery, community-building and storytelling. The goal of this nonprofit organization is to work with kids to fulfill their potential through reading, writing and storytelling. Southwest Ohio Parent talked with Libby Hunter, the executive director and co-founder of WordPlay CIncy, to learn about the mission of this organization, and how they are endeavoring to help Cincy’s youth.

Building a community is an emphasis of WordPlay. What does that idea mean to you?

Community-building for us means learning about ourselves, understanding what makes each individual unique, what has shaped us and what inspires and drives us. We provide safe spaces for children, teens and young adults to come together and experience the vulnerability of trust and the beauty of connection through creative exploration. Our hope is that the relationships that grow transcend our programs.

What is your metric for success?

We measure success through the four elements of our program design: personal growth, creative expression, community-building and future orientation. This means our students are learning about themselves with a focus on activating their strengths; gaining skills in a blend of the literary, performing and visual arts; understanding empathy and the power of connecting with others from a wide range of backgrounds, and learning to map out goals for themselves and step toward a self-directed future.

You have a new building opening in Northside. What will the building mean for WordPlay?

Our new home at 1556 Chase Avenue will give young people a space to come together again after this time of prolonged separation and uncertainty. We will have five times the program space, and rooms available for partner organizations to bring their programs to Northside, as well as for the general public to use to incubate ideas for civic action through the arts.

As we enter into the last year of our capital campaign in 2022, it also means securing the funds to pay off the remaining expenses of acquiring and renovating the building, a cost that has risen from $1.275 million pre-COVID to about $1.45 million because of increases in building materials and mid-construction surprises, such as replacing the entire roof.

What are your goals for 2022?

The 2021-22 school year will be a year of re-establishing face-to-face relationships. We are thrilled to be re-launching our teen spoken word troupe, expanding our arts-in-healing teaching methodologies, and increasing opportunities for our young creatives to use their art for social action.

Before the pandemic shutdown, WordPlay was chosen as the Cincinnati sponsor for the National Youth Poet Laureate Program. We’ll be expanding our network of high school partnerships and working with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and the Cincinnati Poet Laureate for a successful inaugural year.

What impact has the pandemic had on WordPlay Cincy and your community?

Our community will be feeling the effects of the pandemic for a long time. The impact has compounded long-standing inequities for low-income families. For WordPlay, it means doubling down on our commitment to consistently seek input from our families, students, teachers and community partners to meet the evolving needs of those we engage in our programs. A silver lining is increased accessibility through virtual learning platforms that will help youth stay engaged even if they can’t participate in person.

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