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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.

After A Gloomy Year, Some Rockford Area Artists Will Have Something To Smile About


A northern Illinois arts organization is holding its annual award show to honor creatives whose art has enriched the community.

“Smile on the Arts” is the theme for this year’s Rockford Area Arts Council awards.   

Mary McNamara Bernsten is the executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council. She said dental organizations sponsored this event.  

“It was an intentional ask of our regional dental practices. We received a generous sponsorship from Dr. Zak back in the fall for the city of Rockford Poet Laureate,” she said. “And when that Poet Laureate was installed, our fund development committee said to each other ‘what if we approached that group?’” 

McNamara said these dental organizations recognize and acknowledge the impact that the arts have on the community.  

“Smiling on the arts and the impact that some somebody like this group of dentists can make is something where the cultural health of your community is a direct reflection of the health of your arts community,” Bernsten said. “The economic health of your community is a direct reflection of the health of your arts community.” 

The event will be livestreamed Thursday, May 27 at 6 p.m. on the Council’s website. The event is free, but optional “no-show” tickets can be purchased. These donations will assist the Rockford Area Arts Council’s mission to support, promote and give everyone access to the arts.  

  • 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.