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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.

Some Summer Art Programs Are Different This Year

New Genres

We are officially in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan. This means summer programs can return but COVID-19 safety precautions must be taken. Some programs were canceled before this new phase. Two northern Illinois communities came up with alternate options.

The Rockford Area Arts Council, New Genres Arts Space and United Way of Rock River partnered to create New Ways. This summer art program is for children ages 11 to 15. The focus is on new media. This includes animation, video editing and audio art.  

Jason Judd is the co-founder of New Genres. He said registration is still open for the free program.  

“It's Monday through Thursday. And it's so helpful to come all four days because you have like an intro, a concept day,” he said. “and then like two work days. Like four days isn't a lot of time.”

He said each project is self-contained, so children do not have to come every week.

Jen Evans is the director of public art in Aurora. She said they created an eight-week virtual program that targets children who are between the ages of eight and 13.

Credit https://www.facebook.com/aurorapublicart/?tn-str=k*F
Flyer for virtual summer camp.

“So just like a stimulating experience that doesn't cost anything and it's just like something you can count on,” she said. “I think it's a good thing for the City to provide.”

Evans said children needed this because everything they had was shut down.

She said there is a focus for each day of the week with different instructors. One  includes dance on Mondays and another is Foodie Friday where local chefs share recipes.

Evans is also teaching classes. A few include: African, Mexican and Japanese art. 

Judd said New Ways takes place at the United Way of Rock River Valley’s Strong Neighborhood houses but other area children can attend as well.

New Ways will continue through the first week of August.

Videos for Aurora’s virtual summer camp are posted on YouTube and Facebook. All sessions will be archived.

  • Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It’s a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.