Libby Hunter, 44
Executive director, Wordplay Cincy
Why We Love Her: For engaging youth in meaningful activities that target literacy through tutoring and creative writing programs.
As an EcoBroker representing community development corporations providing sustainable housing options in areas of urban blight, Libby Hunter was used to seeing interactions between different social, economic and age groups. But after witnessing a particularly upsetting altercation where local youths began throwing rocks at a disabled client who was moving into a renovated property, Hunter took action and flipped the script. She stopped the kids and engaged them in conversation.
“A very tense exchange with the kids evolved into a conversation with them about their motivations, their own well-being, what they do in their free time, where they can go, feelings about safety in their neighborhood, also my neighborhood, Northside,” she says.
And this exchange turned into a drive to find a way to engage these kids and capture their interest in a positive way — to give them a way out of the cycle of negative behavior that Hunter was seeing become so prevalent.
After discussing the issue that night with her good friend Elissa Yancey, the duo brainstormed a meaningful solution. Inspired by 826 National, a successful nonprofit creative writing/leadership organization founded by author Dave Eggers, Yancey and Hunter developed the concept for WordPlay.
“In a matter of hours, it snowballed from an idea to ‘This is what we are doing,’ ” Hunter says.
Today the two co-founders operate the Northside-based nonprofit with the mission of providing “a creative and engaging ‘third place’ for children, offering a safe and inspirational location outside the home and school where children are supported in literacy ... and project-based learning that encourages self-expression.”
What aspects do you love about your job?
Every day is different: new personalities, new challenges and successes. It’s the most exhausting, demanding thing I’ve ever done professionally, and by far the most rewarding and exhilarating.
How do you define passion? What are you most passionate about?
For me, passion is like a propulsion system, it’s the great motivator, the inspiration behind nearly everything I do. Passion is fiery, it’s undeniable, it demands action. I think I am most passionate about social justice — I feel it’s our obligation to help those in need, to give back.
What do you love about Cincinnati?
I had been desperate to get away when I graduated from high school. Coming back 10 years after that, it’s been a slow, steadily growing love affair with this city. There is a vibrancy here that I credit to people who want Cincinnati to be a better place than the stodgy history that had defined it for so long. … One of my favorite places in the city is Bellevue Park in Clifton for its view. After dark you can see the grid of the city laid out before you, you can sense the energy, and yet it’s quiet from up on the hill and always inspires contemplation — especially if you sneak in a good beer after hours.
Do you believe in love — love at first sight, lasting love?
I believe very much in love, I know it’s essential to my existence, to our existence. Love at first sight? Absolutely. … I remember the birth of my sons so, so clearly — falling completely, madly in love with them the moment I laid eyes on them, feeling like my heart was laid bare forever after. It’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had.
What’s the best lesson life has taught you about love?
We are not flawless, so it’s inevitable that love won’t be, either. If love is to be given a real chance, we must bring our entire selves to the process, “warts and all,” as my mom says.
What phrase or motto do you live your life by?
“It will all be OK in the end; if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” ... If things are rough, I fully believe it’s always within our power to make it better. I have no patience for people who don’t take charge of their own happiness.