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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.

It's Time For Something New - Pecatonica Theater Will Be Rebuilt

Jenna Dooley

The roof of a northern Illinois theater collapsed a few months ago after a snowstorm. But now the decision has been made to rebuild the entire structure.  

Volunteers at the Pec Playhouse Theatre in Pecatonica have spent the last few months cleaning up in preparation for a replacement.  

Suzanne Wiegert, the president of the theater, said the plan was just to replace the roof, but engineers, construction experts and the insurance company didn’t recommend this. 

“And they said ‘it's just not up to code as it stands, and to try to rebuild that would cost more time and money than if we just rebuilt the entire building from scratch.’ So that was something that we didn't take lightly as a board.” 

Wiegert said experts explained that the existing walls couldn't hold a steel roof.

Credit Jenna Dooley

“So, then you have to talk about rebuilding the walls to support that,” she said. “And then ‘is the foundation good enough to support the walls and the roof?’ And they said, ‘no, we would need to have to dig that up just to make sure.’” 

Although the playhouse is under construction, the group will continue to entertain with the help of venues like the West Side Show Room in Rockford and the Main Street Players of Boone County in Belvidere.  

Donations for the project are being accepted. An informational session for the public will happen on June 16 at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds. 

  • 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.