(In)vested interest in our kids' future

I walk through WordPlay one late November evening, a few minutes before pickup time at 6 pm, with a head full of distractions from the busy day. Children are shuffling into their coats, backpacks tucked under arms; rejected papers tossed into the recycling bin, homework shuffled into folders.

Parents fill up the doorway waiting in turn to collect their young ones. They greet each other, chat with the staff, urge their kids to finish tidying up - “hurry along now, it’s been a long day…”

Over the hum of closing time, something stops me in my tracks. I can barely make out the notes of a song, the quality of the voice is almost unreal. I slide around a few mothers to peer into the next room, and see one of our long-time students curled up in a wing-back chair, singing words from a worn sheet of lined paper.

This little girl has been strolling through our door every week for nearly three years, since not long after we opened. She is being raised by a foster parent, just like her mother before her. She hasn’t seen her mother since she was an infant.

LD, ADHD, IEP - there is a thick folder in our filing cabinet that bears the acronyms of her educational history. Each day at our writing center, however, these diagnoses don’t make an appearance. Our WordPlay students - Scholars, as we call them - aren’t defined by their struggles, but are celebrated for their gifts. On this rare November night, I am awed to have experienced yet another of her gifts, this amazing voice. A voice that is carrying an extraordinary melody of her own creation, and she is sight-reading her very own lyrics. Three years ago, she wasn’t reading. Or writing. Math was a struggle, and homework was rarely turned in. And as of December 1st, 2015, she will be a published author.

We are very excited to announce the release of our first-ever anthology of student writing, When You See My Name, written by the WordPlay Scholars of 2014-15 under the wise guidance of our Writer-in-Residence, Pauletta Hansel, and Associate Writer-in-Residence, Kelly Thomas. Theresa Kulbaga, now our WordUP Coordinator and fellow Northsiders, also served as a creative writing leader for the publication. We extend our deepest thanks to the Andrew Jergens Foundation for their generous support of our Writer-in-Residence program and this first publication. Our friends at The Mercantile Library are hosting our big release celebration free and open to the public on Tuesday, December 1st, from 5:30 - 7:30. We will also premiere a video created by a team from the College of Informatics at NKU showcasing teens from our WordUP program with Aiken New Tech High School, with much gratitude to Charitable Words for their support of the project.

Join us in celebrating the young writers of When You See My Name - anthologies will be available for sale in the Urban Legend Institute, WordPlay’s social enterprise, for $20. Proceeds will go to support our Writer-in-Residence program, providing free, creative writing instruction to over 150 children throughout the course of this school year.

In just over three years, we’ve grown from serving 60 students a week, to 100, to 175 by January 2016. The need, seemingly, is without end. As this year draws to a close, we ask for your help to make 2016 a huge success for the kids. Donations from individuals are what keep our doors open, our lights on, and food to feed all of our kids. No amount is too small, and every dollar goes a very long way. We need caring volunteers both to work with our kids and lend their talents behind the scenes. And we need great folks to spread the word - what better way to share news of our work than to buy an anthology? We ask you to take a vested interest - an INvested interest - in our kids, they are the future of our community.

Checks can be mailed to WordPlay, 4041 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati OH 45223, or made securely online via PayPal at www.wordplaycincy.org/donate.

Libby Hunter, Executive Director and Co-Founder of WordPlay and long-time Northside resident.

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