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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.

An Aurora-Based Nonprofit Needs Help

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https://www.facebook.com/CultureStock/
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An Aurora-based nonprofit with a mission to cultivate community through the arts had to leave the space that housed its bookstore and community center two years ago. The group is now looking to purchase a new building but needs help to do so.

Nicole Mullins is the founder and board president of L.I.F.T. (Live. Improve. Flourish. Thrive.) Aurora, better known locally as Culture Stock. Mullins said the nonprofit is looking for monthly donors and sponsorships. Proceeds would help secure financing for the purchase of a building on Aurora’s Near East Side that currently houses St. John’s United Church of Christ. But Culture Stock is having a hard time securing financing.

“Our struggle right now is that, because we've been closed for two years, we do not have a verifiable income,” Mullins said. "And so, to get a mortgage for the space is like impossible or a traditional mortgage.”

She shared that the monthly donations would help because they count as a stream of income.

Mullins said the building is right down the street from Waldo Middle School and she suggested that location is important.

“The numbers for the families that are at or below the poverty line is over 75%," Mullins explained. "If you look at their academic numbers for the 2018-19 school year, they are struggling academically. So, there is a real need in our community, for this type of space.”

Mullins said many organizations used the bookstore to hold events.

“It wasn't just a space that we utilized to run a bookstore. You know, there were countless organizations, grassroots groups that used our bookstore,” she shared. “Aurora University used it on a quarterly basis for their literary magazine launch.”

Mullins said there was a mold issue with the former building. This was confirmed by a company called Pur360.

She said the City owned the former property and ultimately decided to close the building.

Mullins said, by owning the building, the organization will be eligible for grants that will help them maintain the space. She said they were not eligible for this in the City-owned property.

Donations can be made at culturestock.org.

  • 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