Local Spotlight: WordPlay


Every month, Cincinnati Parent spotlights an organization in the area that’s affecting positive change. This month, we’re spreading the word (pun intended!) about WordPlay, a Northside nonprofit dedicated to helping kids with reading, writing and literacy.

In an old storefront in Cincinnati’s historic Northside neighborhood, you’ll find WordPlay, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Cincy’s young people achieve their potential through reading, writing and storytelling. Founded in 2012, WordPlay’s innovative programs help children all over the city hone their academic skills and find their voice. Cincinnati Parent spoke with Reba Hennessey, Development & Communications Director of WordPlay, to learn more about the good work this organization does in our community.  

Why did your co-founders, Libby Hunter and Elissa Yancey, start WordPlay? 

When WordPlay was founded, our neighborhood was undergoing a lot of redevelopment and some of our neighbors were being alienated. At the time, Libby was helping neighbors with disabilities get long-term housing. Blighted properties were being renovated specifically for their needs. Libby was showing a client a house when some kids in a park across the street started throwing rocks at her client. Libby realized she needed to do something to deescalate the situation, so she walked up to them and asked, what’s going on? Why are you doing this? They told her, we don’t know who you are or why you are here. Libby said, I live down the street from you. I’m one of your neighbors.  

Libby realized that she was normally inside of her house and these kids were normally outside and they weren’t interacting. WordPlay was founded to encourage communication between people through storytelling and to provide our kids with the ability to express when they want to see something change. We were also founded as a safe place for kids to go after school to do homework and activities related to reading and writing.   

What kind of programs does WordPlay offer today? 

We still have our original writing center in Northside, but we are reaching a really cool crossroads. Realizing that WordPlay could benefit all of our schools, we are bringing together the concepts of mobile programming and embedded programming. We have an embedded classroom in Aiken High School and we are working towards that model with a local elementary school as well. We provide programming to other schools and non-profits, too. We are also starting to bring in and train more teaching artists from the community. They help facilitate valuable reading, writing and storytelling skills through their own forms of art, whether that’s playwriting or hip-hop. Some of our summer programs include storytelling, the art of bookbinding, rhythm and rhymes, and looking at human rights, especially how media today fits into the journey of human rights in the US.   

How can our community support the work WordPlay does? 

We are anticipating growing our programs by 150 new students this summer. We’d like to be able to keep those students throughout the school year. So, we are looking for people to donate $8.25 per month to allow us to help students for the whole year.  

Why is what you do at WordPlay so important? 

In some of our Cincinnati public schools, 75% of incoming freshman are reading on a 4th grade level. About 60% of that can be attributed to summer slide, a lack of summer reading opportunities reinforcing everything kids have learned over the school year. Research has shown a significant academic gap between higher and lower income students. Kids who have the opportunities to go to camp and museums and participate in activities that their parents set up for them at home over the summer – those kids go back to school and they’re sharp and on their game. But kids who haven’t had that go back to school and they’re scrambling to catch up, let alone learn new things. The academic gap is significant. Our programs help close that gap. 

To learn more about WordPlay visit their website www.wordplaycincy.org

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