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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

She Goes By Devan

Photo provided by Devan.

Aurora continues to showcast artists during its virtual First Fridays. An artist from Sandwich is making a splash in the city's art scene.

The 27-year old artist simply goes by Devan. She started out doing art when she was six.

“So, my parents would always buy paint kits and any kind of little crafty thing,” she said. “I mean, they’d buy me little knitting kits, anything that I could keep my hands busy. And I really always had an affinity for markers.”

Devan attended community college but she dropped out because she said the teachers would not allow her to be creatively free.

“I have a very distinct art style. And they kept wanting me to change it,” she said. “And I feel like that's what makes me different. And that's what's getting me recognition now.”  

Devan said she was born and raised in Sandwich but she started being a part of the Aurora art scene a couple of years ago. She did a show at the Arts Initiative there. After that she met several people in the community who introduced her to yet more people. She said things exploded from there.

Devan uses markers for most of her work.  She also illustrates for children’s and comic books. She recently self-published a children’s book called The Bear Book.

She said she wrote a children’s book when she was 20 years old but she hasn’t done anything with that one. She started doing more after she published this one.

“And then a week after I published that, I got hired to do my first job as an illustrator. And I actually just finished that.”   

She said the author is Naperville resident Sarah Sommer.  The book is called “Animals at the Office.” It launches this summer.

Devan said the art in that book is 100% drawn by hand just like all of her artwork.

Credit Devan
Devan's piece "Breaking Free."

Devan also has a comic called “Punkin.” It’s about her cat who curses.

“So, it's a little bit on the more mature side, but it's very funny and it's kind of exciting that I've been doing this for a year,” she said. “I post one comic every week on Friday and I haven't missed a day yet.”

Devan will showcase more of her art this month at Aurora’s First Fridays. Gary Brown Art gallery will host The Melody of Colors.   

“I will be talking a little bit about my art, how I do what I do, and give you guys a little sneak peek into what goes on in my brain when I'm creating," she said.

Devan said this will be the kickoff of a two-month series. June 27, she will have a "meet and greet" at the gallery. She said the necessary COVID-19 precautions will be taken.

Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.