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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.

New Mural Unveiled In Rockford

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Cities across the country have used murals to enhance the look of their neighborhoods. Monday, Rockford unveiled a community mural at SecondFirst Church located at 318 N. Church Street.  

Tia Richardson is a community mural artist from Milwaukee. She worked with the church and Jeremiah Development to raise $30,000 for the mural.

Richardson said she appreciates the people of Rockford sharing their community with her.

“To me, the city has a life. And like life, there are ups and downs. It's not so much a bad thing to me,” she said. “Because it's a part of life. And in life, there are challenges and with challenge comes opportunity. That's what this mural project is about.”

She said “Rockford Taking Flight” shows a transformation of the city.

“We can see the challenges on the far left, represented by dark clouds. The river represents the city of Rockford as a whole reaching towards something brighter,” she explained. “Moving towards the center, we see some of the choices people named about how to make things better.”

LoRayne Logan is the founder and president of Workplace Staff and Search. She donated half of the funds. She said her encounter with the Richardson was amazing.

“But what I want to share is, this is one tenacious woman. So, you're hearing how sweet she is and how enlightened she is. I'm going to tell you, she's tough too,” Logan said.

Mayor Tom McNamara was also at the event. He told Richardson how beautiful the mural was and he also gave a special thank you to Rev. Rebecca White Newgren of SecondFirst.

“We are so fortunate to have Pastor Rebecca, not just at SecondFirst,” he said. “I know the congregation here thinks that she's yours. But the impact that you've made on our entire community, citywide, in every neighborhood, reaching every different age group and race has been inspiring.”  

Richardson said one thing that she knows about Rockford is that the people have a love for art and culture. More than 200 people came together to paint this mural.

  • 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.