WordPlay attracts a diverse pool of volunteer tutors each year. Some are university students looking to explore opportunities beyond Clifton or the downtown area. Some are active Northsiders, working to continue to build strong literacy among Cincinnati’s youth. One is Officer Melissa Cummins, who takes one day from her week to volunteer with the students at WordPlay.
Officer Cummins is the community liaison for District 5, which includes Northside and surrounding neighborhoods. She began offering her time on September 3rd, and has been a constant presence that the students have learned to look forward to.
“I have had the privilege… to meet some beautiful and bright children in the Northside Community,” Cummins said. “And I pray someday will be my friends for life.”
Cummins’ volunteer days not only benefit the specific students she tutors, but also help carry out a model of intra-community engagement that is at the heart of WordPlay’s mission.
“Just like with all our volunteer tutors, this time is all about forming bonds with the kids,” Libby Hunter, executive director at WordPlay, said. “It de-mystifies her as a police officer and shows that underneath that uniform, she’s a regular person like they are.”
This involvement comes at a time when the perceived lines of communication between local police and the community are bent, or otherwise broken. Students can be hyper-aware of this divide, which has made Cummins’ volunteer time both constructive and restorative. Direct, positive community involvement is essential in attempting to redefine police interaction in and beyond Northside. The attempted result is double-sided: Local police will have the opportunity to learn and develop trust from a new generation, while young people in the community can learn new ways of joining Cincinnati’s diverse groups.
Each day she spends at WordPlay, Officer Cummins is drawing new lines of communication for the future, while continuing to inspire the current community. On the WordPlay Facebook page, UC Graduate Assistant in Education and fellow WordPlay volunteer Becca Gasiewicz writes, “(Melissa) was so kind and caring with the kids. What an awesome bond building opportunity to witness.”
Like every WordPlay endeavor, Cummins’ involvement has been the result of a group effort to cultivate unique community relationships. WordPlay is grateful for the combined actions of Captain Bardua of District 5, Northside resident Peggy Shannon who spearheaded the idea, and co-founder of WordPlay Elissa Yancey. WordPlay is excited to be a part of a continued effort to deepen the foundations of community relationships and welcomes more involvement like that of Officer Cummins to continue to take these steps.
“I believe this involvement with my colleagues should be common,” Cummins said. “And I’m a better person and police officer because of the relationships I’m working to build with the children of this great city and community.”