Chion Wolf (photo courtesy Cara Paiuk – Face Forward Headshots)

The enthusiasm Chion Wolf has for Hartford is contagious. The Hartford resident is well known in the community—and throughout Connecticut—for her voice work on WNPR, where she serves as technical producer, announcer, and photographer.

More recently, Chion’s recognition in the Hartford area has grown with her contributions to local entertainment including The Mouth-Off, Asking For A Friend, and her latest endeavor, Pedal to the Medal.

When Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price interviewed Chion in 2016, they discussed Chion’s general love of Hartford. The two caught up for lunch at one of their local favorites, Tangiers, to talk about her latest activities.

NAN PRICE: First of all, congratulations on becoming a first-time homeowner! Tell us a little about how it happened.

CHION WOLF: Thanks!

My love, Emily, and I decided to buy a home through the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA), which is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) organization that refurbishes and builds houses in Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood. Since most people in Hartford rent, this organization helps people within certain income limits afford to make it happen. And this house is in the name neighborhood where we’ve already been living for nine years.

We’re hoping to close at the end of July. I’m excited—and nervous. I’ve only ever been a renter! But Emily and I make a great team. She used to run all the community gardens in Hartford, so we’re going to turn our big backyard into our own personal foodbank, complete with chickens! It’s going to be awesome.

NAN: There’s a lot to be excited about. Let’s start with your new bike ride, Pedal to the Medal. Was this completely spearheaded by you?

CHION: Yes! Two years ago, I was hit by a car while I was riding my bike here in the West End of Hartford. My collarbone was shattered—I got a plate, eight screws, and six weeks out of work. As soon as I healed up, I started riding my bike again. One day while riding through the intersection where the crash happened, I was thinking about how much I hate sharing the road with cars. It occurred to me that on the morning of the Hartford Marathon, they close the streets down to set up. I thought this would be a cool opportunity to ride on streets that had few to no cars on them.

So, six months after the crash, early on marathon morning, Emily and I rode the route with a couple of friends and it was glorious! I contacted the Hartford Marathon Foundation and I told them about my idea, which I was calling “Pedal to the Medal.” I thought I could pair up with them and, if we sold tickets for the ride, the proceeds could go to BiCi Co., Hartford’s only educational bike store.

Beth Shluger, Founder and Director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, wrote back and said: We’re intrigued, but we would need more time to work on it. She told me to go ahead and do the ride again in 2017 and get back to them afterward. We agreed we should start our ride early, so we didn’t interfere with incoming marathon traffic, and we committed to leaving at 4:00 a.m.

For that 2017 ride, I made a Pedal to the Medal Facebook page with a hand-drawn logo and did some flyering, but otherwise not too much advertising. I expected maybe 15 people to show up, because it was so early in the morning. I printed 42 (my favorite number) releases just in case, but by 3:45 a.m., we ran out of forms! We had over 50 people show up at 4:00 a.m. in downtown Hartford, some dressed up in costumes, and lots of lights. It was awesome!

After the ride, I emailed the people who filled out the releases, and asked: What went wrong? What went right? What would you pay for this ride if it was a charity? How much would you pay if it wasn’t? I got some good ideas.

I met with the Hartford Marathon Foundation to tell them how it went, and they were in! Two other marathons in the country do a bike ride before the marathon, Los Angeles and Boston, but I’m pretty sure they don’t work with the marathons. So, Pedal to the Medal will be the only pre-marathon bike ride that works in tandem with the marathon organization. Because of this, we’ll have a police escort, insurance, and actual medals! People love medals.

The Hartford Marathon Foundation told me I needed to raise $20,000 to do all this. I swallowed hard. But I thought: Obviously, I’m going to try. I had no idea how hard this is going to be—or how easy. Through this experience, I learned so much about fundraising. You can’t just make one generic appeal to everyone. Stipulations with the Foundation prevented me from using online crowdfunding—I needed sponsorships, which are different than donations.

It was a lot of work, but I hit my goal one month and one day after starting. The two biggest funders were my dear friends at Freed Marcroft, LLC and Maki Law, LLC, which was my law firm after my crash. I also received donations from Pedal Power, Watch For Me CT, and a ton of personal friends and community leaders who were totally sold on the idea.

I love that two Hartford breweries, Hanging Hills Brewery and Hog River Brewing Company, got in on it right away! In fact, Hog River will host a fundraiser for the 2019 Pedal to the Medal ride on October 27, just a few weeks after the ride, which is on October 13 at 3:30 a.m.

I think my success in fundraising was a combination of it being a great story with the broken collar bone and aversion to riding alongside cars, and it just being a great, goofy, fun event. Everybody who rides bikes remembers the moment they realized “riding a bike is awesome!” And, for newer riders, I want that memory to be Pedal to the Medal. The more people who ride bikes, the more people who may advocate for new street design that protects cyclists and pedestrians. And they’ll be healthier and happier, too!

We half sold out two weeks after registration opened. I can’t wait to celebrate it selling out!

Chion Wolf (left) and a group of panelists at an Asking For A Friend event.

NAN: Let’s talk about Asking For A Friend.

CHION: Asking For A Friend came about after the election. I realized that the degree to which I was surprised by the results of the election was the degree to which I wasn’t really listening to other people who have been telling me all along about the state of our country. I wanted to find a way to build a platform for people who are smarter than me in different ways to be heard more, and I thought it would be cool to do an advice show on the radio.

Since the station wasn’t in a position to develop that kind of thing at the time, I sketched out on a napkin (where so many great ideas start) the idea of it being a live show somewhere in Hartford. I contacted Julia Pistell at Sea Tea Improv and, as soon as I told her the basic premise, she said: Don’t ask anybody else. We’re in. Let’s do this.

Asking For A Friend takes place every third Saturday of the month. The show features two panelists of my choice, and one Sea Tea Improv member. We discuss three prepared problems, which I pick from things I’m hearing in my community, in the news, and, well, from Reddit. There’s a lot of good problems on Reddit.

We have a “Y U So Salty” round where audience members take the microphone and talk about what’s irking them off lately. There’s another round where the panelists talk about a philosophical question, like last month’s: “Do you believe in vino veritas?” The final problem of the night is one chosen from an audience member. That’s always really fascinating and thrilling to work something out with someone in front of other people. Audience members judge the panelists throughout the show, and whoever gets the most points wins a loofah. At the end of the night, I read anonymous confessions that audience members submitted before the show in a special confession chest. It’s like PostSecret.com, but in real life.

I love that Sea Tea Improv houses the event, lends me one of their talented cast members, takes care of selling the tickets and refreshments, and plugs my recorder into their soundboard so I can turn the audio into a podcast. It’s a wonderful partnership!

NAN: It’s great that you’ve created another community event for Hartford. It’s bringing people downtown and showcasing another thing Hartford has to offer, which is Sea Tea Improv, an organization the community may not otherwise know about.

CHION: That’s true! Our event might get Sea Tea Improv more shows too, because Asking For A Friend is from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. and there’s always a 9:00 p.m. improv show.

Speaking of Sea Tea Improv, I want to invite some of their cast members to tell stories at The Mouth-Off, because comedians are sometimes really good storytellers. I love how things overlap in Hartford. Happens all the time in this little city.

NAN: That’s a good segue into The Mouth-Off. How many years has it been running?

CHION: Six! I’ve got every single story recorded. The Mark Twain House & Museum has been really supportive. They’ve been great at promoting it—we even have merchandise now in the gift shop! And now we’ve got someone helping me figure out how best to turn that into a podcast and find a sponsor for it. It would be Connecticut-based stories told by Connecticut people at that Mark Twain House. It’s an easy sell.

I’d like the podcast to be a combination of The Moth and TED Radio Hour. You’d hear the recording of the story from the stage and then a short interview between me and the storyteller, pulling out a few more details.

What I really love about The Mouth-Off is that, because none of the storytellers audition—they just send in story summaries—I never know how it’s going to go. Neither does the audience. Some people are experienced storytellers, like Speak Up co-founder and many-time Moth Grand-Slam winner, Matt Dicks. Some people have never spoken in front of an audience before in their lives. How cool, to be treated to that kind of diverse, intimate, vulnerable storytelling?

NAN: That’s the differentiator between The Mouth-Off and Speak Up, right?

CHION: Right. Speak Up is a lot more engaged with their speakers. They work with them one-on-one to help them develop their stories to be as concise and powerful as possible. For the most part, they do know how the story is going to go. As a result, you can always expect some pretty polished stories, and it benefits the storyteller to have the guidance.

NAN: I love that there’s room for all of it.

CHION: Me too! I also like the idea Pedal to the Medal, Asking For a Friend, and The Mouth-Off are open to people of all experiences and all abilities.

So many people need and deserve a platform to express themselves. I’ve realized doing all these shows that it’s not hard to accomplish this. People show up when you make room for them! I don’t have a ton of power in the grand scheme of things, but with whatever power I do have, I want to share it. I need to.

NAN: What I love about your involvement in these projects is that you’re known as this “voice” in Connecticut. And you’re stepping aside, handing over the microphone, and putting others in the spotlight. I think it’s admirable. Your message is: Let’s hear from other people. Let me listen. Let me ride along.

CHION: I’m grateful to. But it is somewhat self-serving. I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know that there are plenty of people who are so much smarter than me in so many different ways. I’m eager and impatient to learn, to evolve.

NAN: In your original interview, you noted that a little goes a long way in Hartford and, if you have something to give, or think you do, there are resources to make it happen. You’re definitely showing that by collaborating with Sea Tea Improv, the Hartford Marathon Foundation, and the Mark Twain House & Museum. You do an excellent job promoting Hartford and promoting the community.

CHION: Thank you. This city is important to me. I was born in Hartford. I’d like to get married in Hartford, and own a home in Hartford, which I will soon. I’d like to die in Hartford, too. I remember getting hit by the car feeling: Okay, at least it happened within Hartford city limits! I’d love to die in Hartford—just not for a very long time.

Learn more about Chion Wolf and her Hartford-based activities.

READ: Hartford’s Own Chion Wolf on Why Hartford Has It

Interested in learning more about activities and organizations in Hartford? Read these stories: