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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.

Bikes And Music - Academy Performs Live Since Pandemic

A Rockford music group performed in an unusual place on Sunday.

The Music Academy in Rockford held pop-up performances on the Sinnissippi bike path near the Nicholas Conservatory & Garden-Eclipse Lagoon Teahouse and SwedishAmerican Hospital Riverfront YMCA Pavilion. The performances were originally scheduled for Saturday Sept. 12 but moved to the 13th due to weather. 

Marti Frantz, executive director of the academy, said its children haven’t performed in front of a live audience since March. Zoom is what they’ve had to depend on.

“Zoom has some inherent problems for musicians," she shared. "There's a delay and, you know, we've been trying to teach on Zoom. We can't see their faces and their facial expression. We can't work on intonation. We can't work on tone production.”

Frantz explained that last week was the first time the academy held group classes since the pandemic started. She said all students wear masks and are positioned six feet apart. She also stated they use air purifiers.

John Leib was there enjoying the show with his wife Katie. Leib is a former academy student. He said he started taking lessons at age three and continued through high school.

Credit Yvonne Boose
John and Katie Lieb with their dog Barkley.

“I think music is important for every kid to have an opportunity to learn how to play an instrument,” he said, “whether it be a stringed instrument or woodwinds or any band instrument.”

Frantz said fall solo performances will happpen but there will be changes due to the indoor concert restriction of 50 people. The holiday concert is postponed.

The academy is accepting donations to help with scholarships, financial aid and faculty development.

  • 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.