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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.

Former Ballet Dancer Glides Gracefully Through Artistic Endeavors

Mim Eichmann

Many people switch careers during their lifetime -- leaving the old for the new. But one northern Illinois creative has found ways to intertwine many of her passions.  

Mim Eichmann’s artistic direction has evolved over the years.  

She grew up in the Washington D.C. area where she studied ballet as a child. She said Eugene Collins and his wife Andrea Vodehnal taught at her school and their inspiration made her decide to focus on dance as a profession.  

“But I just felt like, okay, ‘I really think I would like to pursue this,’” she said, “‘because it brings in the music and your body moving to music, and you know, air and space and time.’” 

She originally wanted to go to Julliard but said her parents thought she was too young. For her, Butler University seemed like the next best option. So, she left her home state and settled in the Midwest. 

Eichmann succeeded in her dance career and used her knowledge to teach others. She was the artistic director at the Midwest Ballet Theatre in the Chicago area and the director of Midwest Ballet Academy. Then she realized it was time for her to move in a different direction. 

“Working with high school girls, almost exclusively girls, I did have a few male students,” she added, “you get to this point where you're like, ‘Okay, I just would like to do something else.’ And that's when I got back into the folk scene.” 

She sang as a child and wanted to go back to music. So, in 2005, she picked up playing hammer dulcimer. She said she soon realized how natural this was for her. 

“Because you really have to memorize everything,” Eichmann said. “And you really memorize it in patterns, which as a dancer, things work in patterns, rather than memorizing notes, you know necessarily or lyrics. As everyone knows, I'm terrible at memorizing lyrics.”  

The same year she started with dulcimer lessons, she joined other musicians to form the band Trillium.   

Movement and music weren’t the only artistic forms Eichmann possessed. 

She went to Butler University for dance but ended up attaching herself to something else.  

“I had an extraordinary American authors professor that I had for 105 English. And then this was back in the dark ages, practically,” she joked. “But he's the one that really got me interested in women writers.” 

Eichmann already wrote poetry and song lyrics. But this exposure to female writers from around the 1900s piqued her interest, and she began doing research. 

“I started gathering journals, letters and short stories, again, from women that were the frontiersman women from like, 1880 through about 1905, 1910,” she mentioned. “And I got really interested in what these women would write. Most of them glossed over all the hardships that they experienced.” 

After delving into this genre, another evolution took place for Eichmann. 

In 2017 she finished writing her first book, “A Sparrow Alone,” set in the 1890s. It was published in April of last year. She also wrote a sequel, “Muskrat Ramble” that came out earlier this year.

Eichmann explained that all her creative endeavors are parallel to each other.  

She said these things make it sound like she is indecisive, but her original goal was to be a dancer.   

“And that automatically had to be first no matter what else I wanted to do,” she explained. “You know, the other passions, shall we say, were worked as a sidelight and never abandoned, certainly. But, um, you know, that focus had to be in place.” 

She said she decided to teach to help pay the bills because a lot of the dance companies had a small budget.

Eichmann is no longer dancing but she continues to juggle working with the band, writing children’s music and creative writing. She said the pandemic caused the band to go on hiatus, but they recently recorded a performance for the upcoming Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.   

Eichmann said she was able to balance all these facets of the arts because they are interests that she carried with her from childhood. She explained that a lot of people let their creative lines cross.

“People that are, you know, painters or sculptors, and they're also musicians. I mean, there's a lot of overlap,” she said.

Eichmann wants young people to realize that life changes and it’s hard to decide a definite path. So, she said, they should plan but shouldn’t be afraid to transform their strategy as needed. 

  • Yvonne Boose is a current 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.